“You Travel Far Enough, You Find Yourself”

I'm going going back back to Rwanda Rwanda. The journey is becoming familiar.
I’m going going back back to Rwanda Rwanda. The journey is becoming familiar.
Cleanest streets under the Equator. Kigali By Day.
Cleanest streets under the Equator.
Kigali By Day.
Kigali. Taken from the Kigali Genocide Memorial, my workplace. This is place is starting to feel more and more familiar.
Kigali.
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Good vibes only.
Good vibes only.[/captio

[caption id="attachment_244" align="aligncenter" width="788"]Early morning ride. Kigali to Ngororero. Early morning ride. Kigali to Ngororero.

Ngororero, Rwanda
Ngororero, Rwanda
I love the fact that this country makes me feel small and forces me to notice it.
I love the fact that this country makes me feel small and forces me to notice it.
Nyabarongo River. En route from ngororero To Kigali.
Nyabarongo River. En route from ngororero To Kigali.
Nyabarongo River.
Nyabarongo River.

I can’t believe it’s almost been a year since I moved back. I took a break from the blogging to focus on the country itself and not experience it through my lens. As much as I wanted to share each and every experience with the world, the truth is that not every experience can be shared in that way. Most things in life still require you to experience it first hand. That’s why I live to travel.

I spent May in the States and almost immediately, I was reminded of why I was in such a hurry to leave the country. I’m happier in Rwanda than I’ve been in a long time. I have my own little life here and it works for now. I like that I’m always distracted by something new and different than what I’ve known all these years. When I leave the city [Kigali] and I’m surrounded by greenery and hills, I feel small and I feel like it’s the land’s way of forcing me to pay attention to it. To recognize it. For what it is today. What it was yesterday. And what it will be like tomorrow. This time, I booked a one-way ticket to Rwanda and I don’t know when I’ll be back stateside because at the at the moment, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. Emphasis on “for now”. A nomad always has one foot outside the door but for now, this is fine with me.

I’ll stop here for now but for those of you hungry for more, I update my tumblr a lot more often (and I post way too many self-portraits) so check it out: www.lifethroughanslr.tumblr.com.

Cheers to 2014

Fresh brochettes at 4am in Kigali. Worth noting. Always. Thank you Rwanda. My [preferred] pescatarian diet is on hold until further notice.
Fresh brochettes at 4am in Kigali. Worth noting. Always. Thank you Rwanda. My [preferred] pescatarian diet is on hold until further notice.
It has been over 2 months since my last update and I’m not sorry. I  want to avoid  becoming one of those people having-an-experience-just-for-the-sake-of-instagramming-it-later and so every now and then, I just choose to focus on the experience. Besides, you just can’t capture everything that happens to you and then expect to share those things with others in a way that does it justice. Rwanda continues to be good to me. I had taken a break to visit family, friends and colleagues in the States, but I’m back now and I have to admit that I really missed this place while I was away. After meeting with and losing a battle with the infamous “Polar Vortex”, I was comforted knowing that I would be returning to sunny Kigali. I’m excited about the year and the rest of my time in this country. I’ve learned so much since I’ve been here and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change anytime soon. Truthfully, I’m glad for that. I’m also looking forward to getting out of Kigali more and seeing more of Rwanda in general. Naturally, I  am also hoping  for more out-of-Rwanda experiences and new passport stamps, Insha ‘Allah. As this is a photoblog, let me show you what I’ve been up to and I hope to do this a tad more frequently this year.

Fabric heaven, called "ibitenge", sold in Rwanda but mainly from the Congo. I will be adding at least one ibitenge outfit to my closet once a month.
Fabric heaven, called “ibitenge”, sold in Rwanda but mainly from the Congo. I will be adding at least one ibitenge outfit to my closet once a month.
Walking through Nyamirambo is a good way to spend a day in Kigali. There is so much life, so many different shops and I just love the signage. Nine West anyone?
Walking through Nyamirambo is a good way to spend a day in Kigali. There is so much life, so many different shops and I just love the signage. Nine West anyone?

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Also taken in Nyamirambo. This place is home to most of the city's muslims and it's the last place my family lived before we left the country.
Also taken in Nyamirambo. This place is home to most of the city’s muslims and it’s the last place my family lived before we left the country.
Taken in Kiyovu in late December, right before I left Rwanda for my trip to the States. I just love snapping pics in this area. Def. one of the prettiest in all of Kigali.
Taken in Kiyovu in late December, right before I left Rwanda for my trip to the States. I just love snapping pics in this area. Def. one of the prettiest in all of Kigali.
Souvenirs and things from an arts collective behind Simba's supermarket in town. The lady who sold me these knows me by name now.
Souvenirs and things from an arts collective behind Simba’s supermarket in town. The lady who sold me these knows me by name now.
Also from the same arts collective. Did I say how much I love these clutches? I had to bring a few to the States.
Also from the same arts collective. Did I say how much I love these clutches? I had to bring a few to the States.
Mototaxi life. How I get around about 99% of the time.
Mototaxi life. How I get around about 99% of the time.
Life doesn't make sense without "Akabanga". There is no way I would have dared to visit my family without bringing at least a dozen of these with me.
Life doesn’t make sense without “Akabanga”. There is no way I would have dared to visit my family without bringing at least a dozen of these with me.
I brought in the new year in the big Apple. Had to brave the icy temperatures to check off a bucket list item: see Times Square.
I brought in the new year in the big Apple. Had to brave the icy temperatures to check off a bucket list item: see Times Square.
Time Square? Check. NYC, Jan. 2014.
Time Square? Check. NYC, Jan. 2014.

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University of Southern California. This place changed my life. It felt good to be back for some time.
University of Southern California. This place changed my life. It felt good to be back for some time.
Downtown Los Angeles as seen from Takami. I will always love this place.
Downtown Los Angeles as seen from Takami. I will always love this place.
L.A. Jan 2014.
L.A. Jan 2014.
Taken shortly after I returned to Rwanda a few weeks ago. I'd forgotten how incredibly low the fog can get in this place.
Taken shortly after I returned to Rwanda a few weeks ago. I’d forgotten how incredibly low the fog can get in this place.
Taken while visiting Agahozo Shalom Youth Village for the first time in the Rwamagana district. Great school, great view and I’m going back soon.
Taken while visiting Agahozo Shalom Youth Village for the first time in the Rwamagana district. Great school, great view and I’m going back soon.

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Taken while visiting Gashora Girls Academy in the Bugesera district. What a view. I get to spend a weekend here soon and can’t wait.
Taken while visiting Gashora Girls Academy in the Bugesera district. What a view. I get to spend a weekend here soon and can’t wait.

A thankful Rose in Rwanda

garden of unity

My favorite day of the year is upon us and I find myself a continent away from the people I usually spend this day with. Every Thanksgiving, knowing how much the day means to me, my mother usually allows me to make executive decisions regarding the day’s menu and this is something my sisters have learned not to contest (I consult them on an item or two but no more).

This year, I will not get to decide what’s on the menu nor will I get to disregard my calorie counting app in exchange for life-changing food (yes, you read that right), drink and lounging on the couch making our way through Redbox rentals, a strong and surviving family tradition. And let’s not forget about the occasional family fight or two which never last long and aren’t taken seriously by anyone because what would a holiday be without those right?

In short, today is bittersweet but if I had to tip the scale, there would be a lot more sweet involved. With that said, I’ll cut back on the cheesy moving forward. What I wanted to say is that though I’m an ocean away from family and friends, I’m grateful and thankful that it’s because of a job that gives me life and adds meaning to my life. More importantly,  I’m thankful that it feels less like a “job” and more like I’m contributing to a cause that is bigger than me and a cause that I have wanted to be a part of since I can remember: promoting peace.

As I’d briefly mentioned it in this post, I am working in Rwanda as an education liaison to the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, dedicated to making audio-visual interviews with survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides a compelling voice for education and action.  Along with Aegis Trust, a U.K.-based genocide-prevention organization,  and funded through the U.K. Innovation in Education Fund, they recently launched the IWitness in Rwanda project, an education programme to use the education platform ‘IWitness’ in schools across Rwanda to teach about the Holocaust and the Rwandan Tutsi Genocide. IWitness is an online application for educators and students, giving them access to watch, search, edit, share video, images, and learn from over 1,300 video testimonies of survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust and the Rwandan Tutsi Genocide. The method of the programme is to use testimonies of survivors and perpetrators in an attempt to promote positive values and critical thinking in Rwandan students. Working on this project has been nothing short of educational for me and life-changing in other ways. I believe in the power of teaching with testimony and the impact it can have on a student because I remember the first time I sat down to listen to a survivor testimony from start to finish and how it impacted my life since then. Working as an intern at the Shoah Foundation Institute during grad school, I was finally able to define and understand what genocide prevention means. Until then, I was largely skeptical that anyone actually had the power to prevent such a horrible event and I’d always equated genocide and how it came to be as some sort of extra-ordinary event, perpetrated by less-than-human evil people and to me, prevention just seemed as an absurd a thought as intervention seemed. As a Rwandan, I’d long lost faith in intervention for the sake of saving human lives and I had every reason to believe that with regards to Rwanda. Working at the Institute changed that because I begin to understand that genocide has actual roots and causes and that there exists verifiable stages to genocide and that it can in fact be prevented. I also learned that genocide is committed by human beings and that just as someone can be taught to hate and kill, they can also be taught to respect, if not love, and protect.

Now I am in Rwanda promoting a transformative educational tool and ultimately, working with, for and alongside the few organizations in our world today who have chosen to dedicate their efforts to peace. This time last year, I would have never predicted that I would be in Rwanda today but I couldn’t be more thankful today. All I know is that I had always wished to be a part of this kind of work and for a long time, I had dreamed of doing so in Rwanda.  Life is truly full of surprises.

Working in this capacity and in a largely new culture and environment (I’d only spent three weeks in the country prior to this during the 19 years I’ve been away) has been both rewarding and challenging and no matter what the future holds, I’m happy and thankful for this. Working in Rwanda has also allowed me to reconnect with my roots and reflect on my own identity and that itself has been an eye-opening experience. Furthermore, to all of the people that I work with here Aegis Trust in Rwanda, I want to thank you for having welcomed me into the Aegis family. I was the new kid on the block a few months ago and largely intimidated by this but things have greatly changed. Lots of organizations claim to feel like family but this is especially true at Aegis and I can feel it today.  Thank you for keeping me laughing, teaching me about a country that doesn’t always feel like my own and helping me improve my Kinyarwanda one word at a time. In all, working with all of you has made all of the difference and I couldn’t be more grateful. And to the Shoah Foundation Institute, thank for the opportunity to contribute and the mentorship and most of all, thank for you making me feel valued.

As Thanksgiving is day of giving thanks, I wanted to take the time to do so. People never get the roses while they can still smell them so better now than never.

Until next time.

Buja, Buja

On October 25th, I began my weekend trip to  Bujumbura, Burundi not by choice but largely because I had to. With my 3-month visa nearing expiration, I had to leave the country (Rwanda) so that I could then come back and extend my visa for another 3 months. When I arrived in Rwanda in August, the plan was to apply for a one year work visa but I was missing one document at the time of my application and was only able to get a temporary visitor visa. Fast forward to October and with my missing document still in "progress", I knew that there would be a time when I'd have to leave the country for a bit and come back to reapply. However, I made one huge mistake when I crossed into Burundi- I had forgotten to check on the visa requirements for Americans arriving in Burundi and was unaware of the entrance fee for a 3-day visa. So what happened? My bus left me behind and with no ATM machine in sight in order to withdraw the needed cash and without enough Rwandan currency on me to exchange it for dollars (hate traveling with money because it's easier to lose so I prefer cards) so that I could pay for my Burundi visa, I was forced to go back the way I came. Until then, my American passport had spoiled me. I had never had to pay for an entrance visa before. Certainly not when I traveled to the U.K., Croatia or Bosnia only two years before. You travel and you learn. Having crossed back into Rwanda and searching desperately for a ride back towards Butare where I could spend the night and try again in the morning, I finally found a seat on a bus and off I went. You travel and you learn.
On October 25th, I began my weekend trip to Bujumbura, Burundi not by choice but largely because of visa requirements. With my 3-month visa nearing expiration, I had to leave the country (Rwanda) so that I could then come back and extend my visa for another 3 months. When I arrived in Rwanda in August, the plan was to apply for a one year work visa but I was missing one document at the time of my application and was only able to get a temporary visitor visa. Fast forward to October and with my missing document still in “progress”, I knew that there would be a time when I’d have to leave the country for a bit and come back to reapply. However, I made one huge mistake when I crossed into Burundi- I had forgotten to check on the visa requirements for Americans arriving in Burundi and was unaware of the entrance fee for a 3-day visa. One of my finer moments. So what happened?  With no ATM machine in sight in order to withdraw the needed cash and without enough Rwandan currency on me to exchange it for dollars (hate traveling with money because it’s easier to lose so I prefer cards), my bus left me behind and I was forced to go back the way I came. However, there was no way I was going to return to Kigali without my passport stamp so I decided to head to Butare and try again the next day.  It was too late to book a seat on another bus heading to Bujumbura so I had no option but to stay in Huye. Until then, my American passport had spoiled me. I had never had to pay for an entrance visa before. Certainly not when I traveled to the U.K., Croatia or Bosnia only two years before. You travel and you learn. Having crossed back into Rwanda, I finally found a seat on a bus and off I went to Huye. You travel and you learn. The good thing is, I’m now well acquainted with the Rwandan and Burundian immigration officers on both sides of the border so let me know if you ever need a favor (kidding).
My Hotel Room at Hotel Ibis in Huye, Butare. Not bad.
My room at Hotel Ibis in Huye, Butare. Not bad and under $30 bucks for the night.
My first solo meal in Huye: fish brochette and chips as they call it here. Had been to Huye twice before and with a group so never ate alone. Gave me time to catch up on Mad Men.
My first solo meal in Huye: fish brochette and chips as they call it here. Had been to Huye twice before with a group so never ate alone but there’s a first time for everything. Gave me time to catch up on Mad Men.
My little bungalow. If you're ever in Huye, check out Hotel Ibis. It's nice, clean, quiet and there's a wifi. A nice getaway from busy Kigali.
My little bungalow. If you’re ever in Huye, check out Hotel Ibis. It’s nice, clean, quiet and there’s a nice restaurant to boot. A nice getaway from busy Kigali.
The side view.
The side view.
Hotel Ibis.
Hotel Ibis.
Finally made it across the border to Burundi. If you fail once, try again. Mission accomplished.
Finally made it across the border to Burundi. If you fail once, try again. Mission accomplished.
I love fish and chips and Amstel obviously.  My first and only meal in Bujumbura.
I love fish and chips and Amstel obviously. My first and only meal in Bujumbura.
View from my hotel in Bujumbura. What you don't see is how hot it was, even at 7 in the morning.
View from my hotel in Bujumbura. What you don’t see is how hot it was, even at 7 in the morning.

I woke up to this around 6 am, had no idea what was going on and was too spooked to go back to sleep.
I woke up to this around 6 am, had no idea what was going on and was too spooked to go back to sleep.

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Lake Tanganyika.
Lake Tanganyika.
I hope to see more of this place the next time around.
Finally made it. I didn't get to see any hippos or crocodiles so I will be trying again.
Finally made it. I didn’t get to see any hippos or crocodiles so I will be trying again.

buja 17 buja 18

One day, I too will pick up fishing as a hobby.
One day, I too will pick up fishing as a hobby.
Back to Rwanda. In conclusion, I've never worked so hard for a passport stamp. Until next time.
Back to Rwanda. In conclusion, I’ve never worked so hard for a passport stamp. Until next time.

Home. Or something like it.

I’ve now been in Rwanda for a month and some weeks now and I think it’s safe to say that I’m just beginning to finally settle in (a more insightful post to follow in the coming days). I’ve experienced more culture shock here than I ever did in the States. At first, I fought the changes, more or less. As someone who left my parents’ home at 18 and someone who has gotten used to starting over in new places, braving the new and unknown on my own while never experiencing homesickness, Rwanda was beginning to change all that. I found myself missing home, missing people I had rarely seen even when we were in the same country. The odd thing being missing a country that I didn’t realize had become my home, even if I still felt like an “other” at times.

The pictures below show my home here in Rwanda. I live in Kacyiru, a neighborhood full of government offices and various NGO headquarters. It’s peaceful here (despite what you may have read in the news). When I’m not at work, I’m usually dwelling here in this very garden. Sometimes with my head buried in a book. Sometimes lost in my thoughts. It’s quiet here, except for the birds, but I don’t mind them. My mind doesn’t race as much as it did in the States. I find myself feeling much calmer, less anxious about things. I’m also writing and journaling more. I’ve read more books during my time here than the last 3 years put together. I feel like I’m slowly getting back to the parts of me I’d long forgotten.

In a few days, I’ll be turning 26. This will be the first birthday I celebrate in this country since I was 5.

Imagine that.

Anyway, until next post.

View from the porch (or veranda).
View from the porch (or veranda).
The house. View from the garden.
The house. View from the garden.

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Come on in.
Come on in.

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JOSELYNE UMUTONIWASE Fashion show @ Papyrus

On Saturday August 24, I was invited to my first fashion in Kigali, held at Papyrus. It was Joselyne Umutoniwase’s Spring 2014  unveiling and I had such a good time and met lots of beautiful and good people. Take a look. I must get my hands on some of these looks. Check her out here and make sure to follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

See a video of all of the styles on my Tumblr photoblog here.

Waiting for the show to start.
Waiting for the show to start.

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Yours truly at the Fashion Show!
Yours truly at the Fashion Show!
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Joselyne in the middle.
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The designer herself! Joselyne Umutoniwase.

Wandering around Kigali: First few days.

Streets of Kigali
Streets of Kigali

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Meze Fresh. Sure to be my new lunch spot. The Chipotle, Freebird and Qdoba of Rwanda and around the corner of my house.
Meze Fresh. Sure to be my new lunch spot. The Chipotle, Freebird and Qdoba of Rwanda and around the corner of my house.
This was my office view during my first week at work. Highland Suites Hotel in Nyarutarama. Not pictured here is the awesome food. Check it out if you're ever in town.
This was my office view during my first week at work. Highland Suites Hotel in Nyarutarama. Not pictured here is the awesome food. Check it out if you’re ever in town.

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Reminds me of Cali.
Reminds me of Cali.