“Life Begins at the End of your Comfort Zone…”

Last week, I made my eighth trip to Rwanda. Rwanda, and specifically the capital city of Kigali has a special place in my heart. It was the first place on the continent that I visited in 2009 and it currently serves as a rest and relaxation destination from the chaos of Nigeria. While my professional life is in Abuja, my personal life seems to exist in Kigali.

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With Lambert in 2009 and with Lambert on my most recent trip in August 2015.

During this recent trip, I was talking with friends about that first trip in 2009. We laughed and joked about sleeping in the great outdoors in Queen Elizabeth Park and rafting the Nile in Uganda. But the question that always comes up is what were my initial expectations of Rwanda and what did I think when I arrived.

I would admit that when my friend Myal moved to Rwanda in 2007, I knew very little about the tiny East African nation. While I was aware of the genocide, I could not tell you anything about the country. Like most American, I imagined Myal would be living out in the “bush” with no electricity or running water. Between 2007 and 2009, I started to read multiple books about Rwanda and the genocide and by the time I arrived in Kigali, I had a basic understanding of Rwanda.

In May of 2009, Myal asked if I would host a Rwandan friend who would be visiting the U.S. for the first time. I will never forget my roommate’s response – “we don’t know this guy, what if he kills us in our sleep.” While he was joking with his response, we were allowing a complete stranger into our apartment and didn’t know what to expect. When Shami arrived, it was a cultural experience for both of us. He played the role of the country bumpkin (as he often said) and I played the role of the ignorant American who wanted to introduce Shami to every American appliance in our apartment. However, I forgot to explain how to work our tricky shower head. One day, Shami and I were touring Washington, D.C. and he mentioned to me that he needed food. He said, “Can we get a cake?” I was a bit dumbfounded by his question. Did he really want cake for breakfast? How did they eat in Rwanda and how was he able to stay so thin if he is eat cake in the morning? My response to Shami was – “like a birthday cake?” He smiled and said no, like a small cake. We went back and forth about this cake but luckily, we walked by a café and he pointed to a muffin in the window. He was referring to a muffin and not a birthday cake! (Can you imagine!). He called it a cake – I called it a muffin. Cultural misunderstanding at its finest…

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(top) Shami and I at Arlington Cemetery in May 2009 and (bottom) at his wedding in October 2014.

While I am not very consistent in my journal writing, there are various aspects of my life that I have written about in various books and journals. My visit to Rwanda was one of those moments. I thought I would use this blog to relive my first journey to the African continent.

November 16, 2009

“Rwanda is a country of black people – I am no longer in the minority. This takes sometime getting use to – especially at the football (soccer) game we attended on Saturday. I have had several people approach me speaking Kinyarwanda (the local language). Sadly, I did not understand what they were saying to me.”

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My first football game…ever!

“As I sit on Myal’s front steps overlooking Kigali, I can see where Rwanda gets its nickname – Land of a Thousand Hills. Kigali, the capital city is made up of several hills and valleys and just about every home has a spectacular view of the city or surrounding community. The country is very green but I am told that during the dry season, everything is brown and the town is extremely dusty. The vibrant green hills are dotted with communities and crisscrossed with red dirt roads….”

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A night view of Kigali from one of the surrounding Hills. I borrowed this photo from a friend who spent time in Kigali.

“Rwanda is not the country most Americans associate with “Hotel Rwanda.” When telling friends I was traveling to Rwanda, their initial response was “be careful, Rwanda is dangerous.” Clearly their impressions were formed by the genocide in 1994 and not visiting the country…

We attended a church on Sunday – Rwanda for Jesus. It reminded me of a Frontline Service – minus the bright lights and unnecessary fog. They sung Hillsong worship music – which are very popular in Rwanda – and a female delivered the message. It turns out that she was the co-pastor with her husband…”

November 18, 2009

“Ten minutes in Africa is one hour in America! We stopped for lunch today and was told by the cook that lunch would be served in 10 minutes. 40 minutes later, lunch was served…

I am sure there are many blacks from America who arrive in Africa thinking that they have arrived in their homeland – the place of their ancestors. But its easy to forget that hundred of years have passed and western development has completely changed the society we live in…In a conversation with Rwandan friends Erwin and Sharon, I mentioned that my color came from Africa. Sharon’s response was “But you are almost white.” (This comment has been uttered to me by numerous people in Nigeria since moving to the continent) Clearly not the response I was expecting or the response I would get in the U.S. I assumed that she would have agreed with me but it reinforced what I believed that we are from two different backgrounds…”

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A group photo after our safari in Uganda. (l to r) Sentell, Erwin (seated), Sharon and Myal.

November 22, 2009

“Tonight, Lambert, Erwin and I had a conversation about African stereotypes among Americans. I did not tell them that I was constantly told by friends and co-workers not to bring home an African wife (the irony). I think they would have liked to hear the story and find the humor in it but I thought it was politically incorrect to say it in public. Its very similar to what I told Myal when he left for Rwanda – “I would not be ready if you brought an African wife back to the U.S.” (irony again)…”

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One of the most unique experiences was visiting the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. It was both awesome and frightening at the same time. 

I never expected during that trip that I would find myself returning to Rwanda over and over again…much less residing on the continent. But this trip was my entry into the continent and when the opportunity presented itself to dive in face first, I did. In one journal entry from that trip I wrote…

“So far, this has been an interesting trip. My goal was to visit with Myal, however, I was hoping to answer some questions or at least begin the process about life after the ABA (American Bankers Association). I have been praying about next steps since arriving at the ABA. However, I have become quite complacent – comfortable job, comfortable salary, good church environment – but this is not what God desires for his people. I think Donald Miller said it best in his book, “Blue Like Jazz,” the greatest trick of the devil is to have us wasting time. And I do a lot of wasting time. I pray that when I arrive back in the U.S. that I will remain focused on God and what he wants from me in my life. Which is the perfect time since D’Mitri is off to the Air Force.”

While I didn’t know what the future held…I knew God was preparing me for such a time as this…”Life Begins at the End of your Comfort Zone…” Neale Donald Walsch

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The most important reason to crisscross the continent between Nigeria and Rwanda…to spend more time with Sheila!

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