Category Archives: Library

You Get What You Fish For

 

Darren and I have just come home from the market with all kinds of yummy vegges and we’ve just discovered that our favorite Asian restaurant sells homemade tofu! We decide that we need a few more things before we can cook dinner, so we walk to our local supermarket. As we go through the aisles looking for soy sauce and ginger, we walk past the granola, chocolate, juice boxes, fish food, potato chips….hold up. Rewind. Fish food?!

You must understand, I’ve been wanting a fish for the library for over a year. I tried to bring one back with me but that was a no-go. The conversation went something like this:

Hello, thank you for calling Qatar Airlines, how can I help you?

Hi, yes, I’m flying to Rwanda and I’m wondering if it’s possible to bring a fish in my carryon.

I’m sorry, a what?

A fish! I want to bring a goldfish with me. Is that allowed?

Ma’am no one has ever asked me that before. I’m going to have to check with my supervisor…….No ma’am I’m sorry, fish are strictly banned from carry-on luggage.

Womp. I’ve searched high and low all over Kigali, but pet stores aren’t really a thing here and it’s really hard to try to explain to people that you want to buy a fish that is still alive. I’ve checked all the expat blogs and asked all the kiddos, but no one seemed to know anywhere this librarian might be able to buy a small colorful aquatic creature. One might say I’d given up.

Then I spotted the fish food. If there is fish food for sale, that must mean someone is buying it to feed a fish! Who are these people? Where do their fish come from? And what would I have to do to find one of these people and convince them to give me one of their fish?!

I grab the container and walk up to the cashier. “HI. Where is the animal that goes with this?”

She gave me one of the most confused looks I’ve gotten in a long while, and I teach English as a second language, so that’s really saying something. The cashier has no idea, but luckily another customer does. He starts trying to explain to me where to go until we decide that the directions are way too complicated for me to remember. I ask him to write down how to get to the place so that I can show the directions to a moto driver. He agrees, writes a few sentences in Kinyarwanda, and tells us we should probably go another day, because it’s getting dark and they’re probably closed now. A few eyelash flutters from me and one truly spectacular eye-roll from Darren and it’s decided: we will search for my fish tomorrow morning.

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Please, kind moto, take us there!

 

The next morning, armed with my little note, we hail motos and begin our fish-venture. We drive through a part of town that I don’t usually spend time in and after a few turns and dirt roads, I begin to wonder if maybe kind stranger has arranged for us to be dropped off at some kind of kidnapping hotspot. Finally, we see a sign next to a seemingly abandoned lot that says “ALPHA CHOICE, frozen fish, frozen chicken”.

Uh oh. I do not want a frozen fish. The moto driver gives me a look and says, “I think they’re out of business,” but Darren and I decided to walk around anyway. We discover the storefront (not closed – thank goodness) and apprehensively approach the men unloading boxes of frozen fish.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see a small tank inside. YES! The nice man behind the counter does in fact have several goldfish that he’s willing to sell me. 5000 francs later, and I’m holding my new little friend.

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GOTCHA!

Fast forward thirty minutes, and I have a nice little jar that will serve as a tank and of course I’ve gone back for the container of fish food that started it all. Along the way, I discover that if you want people to look at you like you’ve lost your mind, simply walk through Kigali holding a goldfish in a plastic bag. That should do the trick.

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The happiest librarian there ever was!

After two pretty treacherous moto rides and an hour on the bus, Cousin the Fish arrived safely to the Library. His little tank is all set up, and now the only thing left to do is watch at the kiddos come in to visit!

 

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It’s ok, Cousin. I don’t like bus rides either.
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Welcome home Cousin!
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It was a very good day

5:30 – get up, shower, breakfast, out the door

6:45 – arrive at school, observe welcoming ceremony for the official start of Term 1

7:15 –  mobilize the Ministers to help get our first year students to their classrooms and help distribute school supplies. Watch with obscene pride as Ministers organize themselves, anticipate the needs of the people around them, and work together to meet those needs and solve problems in real time

9:15 – teach

10:00 – solve library-related problems

10:55 – teach

12:30 – lunch

1:30 – walk back up the hill to school

2:15 – teach

2:55 – walk home from school, stop in the Dining Hall to take cover from the pouring rain

3:30 – turn off phone, yoga for 1 hour

5:00 – meet student in Library to work on an application for an incredible opportunity that’s due….tonight

6:53 – finish application (it’s perfect! Go us!)

7:00 – stare in disbelief as the computer we are using logs out of the student’s account and won’t let us log back in because it’s past 7 pm

7:01 – call the tech guy and try to problem solve

7:02 – lots of deep breaths

7:03 – accept that there is nothing we can do to log in to the student’s account until tomorrow morning

7:04 – go to dinner

8:00 – meet student to rewrite entire application – this time on my computer where nothing unexpected or unsolvable is likely to happen

8: 44 – finish application (thank God)

8:45 – submit application

8: 47 – have critical conversation with student about how wonderful she is, how great it will be if she wins, and that she should manage her expectations so she won’t be crushed if she isn’t accepted

8:50 – organize one last stack of books, glance over lesson plans for tomorrow, realize that I have literally not stopped moving since 5:30 in the morning. Reflect on how every second of this day was completely jam packed with productive and enjoyable work.  Think about all the perfect faces I saw today, all the hugs and high-fives I gave and received, all the little moments of love in between the tasks of the day. Decide that I’ve done enough for one day, and that I should go to sleep, so I can do it all again tomorrow.

 

It was a very good day.

Ready, Set, Go!

What a difference a year makes! The Cousins have been in Rwanda for two weeks and oh my goodness is it so much easier this time around! Our travel was smooth and uneventful, all of our luggage arrived in tact, and we made it to Kigali without shedding a single tear. After a few days of jet-lag induced late night chats, our little Cousin group is already starting to feel like family.  While the new Cousins got to know Rwanda, I spent time catching up with some of my Kigali-based kiddos, which was beyond delicious. Peter cooked up a beautiful Christmas eve/ first night of Hanukkah dinner and we spent Christmas Day cloud watching at the Hotel Des Mille Collines.

We arrived at the Village early last week and amidst dozens of hugs and ‘how are yous’ we allowed ourselves to be enveloped by the undeniable feeling of home this place cultivates. We had a few days to prepare for our new students, so we spent time with the management staff of the Village learning about all the programmatic and structural changes the Village developed over the break. Suffice it to say that the management team has been extremely busy – the Village has been turned upside down and inside out. The changes seem to be moving in the right direction and while I have a feeling our older students will flip, I think things are definitely going to work more smoothly from now on. The biggest change is that there are usually 8 families per grade, and this year there will be only 6. We’ll have the same number of students, just larger families. Unfortunately, it also means that Taylor and I won’t be assigned new families. It’s a little disappointing, but it means we’ll be able to continue focusing on our families from last year. It also means I’ll have the freedom to visit different families every day for meals and family time, which will help me achieve my lofty goal of knowing all 528 students by name.

While the other Cousins were settling in, I was ready to hit the ground running. I reset the Library to its pre-winterization glory and I organized the 200ish books I had brought with me from the book drive. I’m sad I wasn’t able to bring all of the donations with me, but the rest of the books will make their way over with different visitors over the course of the next few weeks, so no worries. Our new students will spend the next three weeks in orientation English classes, so I got to work on creating fun and engaging lesson plans for the other Cousins to help me teach. We prepped the family houses for the new students and welcomed them on Thursday morning. After a full weekend of name learning and game playing, the kids were ready to start English classes.

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Home sweet Library

Unlike last year, I actually know what I’m doing this time around which, to be honest, is really refreshing. Monday marked the beginning of my fourth year of classroom teaching, and if the year turns out to be as successful as our first day of school was, I will be one happy Cousin. The kids (who showed up 30 minutes earlier than expected) were quickly organized into their classrooms and ready to learn. The Cousins executed the lesson plans beautifully. The materials were prepared, problems were solved, and the kids walked away feeling like the school is a place of safety, learning, and fun. As I checked in on each classroom throughout the morning, I was just blown away by the incredible team of fellows I get to work with and the amazing students I’ll have in my classes this year. Already we can see that their levels of English are significantly higher than last year’s group, which means my job will be significantly easier this time around. I’ll spend the next three weeks planning word games and confidence building activities to prepare the kids for real classes, which will start on the 23rd. I’ll also be working with a consultant the Village has hired to support the teachers and help me develop the English program into a sustainable curriculum. I’ll be putting all of the new kids into the library software so they can check out books, and in my spare time, I’ll be marinating on how to include more leadership development programming for my ministers. Words simply fail to capture how truly and thoroughly happy I am to be home, and how hard I am ready to work for my kiddos this year. I’m so looking forward to a new year with new students, new Cousins, and new adventures, all while applying the lessons and skills I learned last year.  Having six weeks at home was nice, but it’s time to roll up my sleeves, put my dirty sneakers back on, and get back to work.

I have too many books.

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Poor mailman

Well. Two months ago, I had this great idea to make this fabulous wish list online and send it to everyone I know and a lot of people I don’t in order to collect a bunch of books to bring back to the Village. I sat down with some of my most avid readers and we added title after title to our wish list. We need new headphones? Put them on the list. 32 copies of “Who Moved My Cheese?” Put them on the list. An adapter with built in USB ports? Put it on the list. Rwandan authors? List. Every novel ever written by Nicholas Sparks? What the hell, put them on the list. It’s not like we’re going to get 200 donations anyway.

We did not get 200 donations. We got close to 300 books, from over 70 donors, totaling a whopping $4500 in books and resources for the Library. We got every single book we asked for, and then some. The only thing we didn’t get was the kitchen sink, and I have a feeling if I had put that on the wishlist, we would have gotten one of those too.

About halfway through the book drive, I received a few duplicate books so I got in touch with the friend who had donated them to see if he could send me a copy of the receipt so I could exchange them for something else on the list. My friend was surprised – didn’t I have a copy of the receipt? No, because I had lost it. Lost it?! My friend was shocked. How could I have lost a receipt for a book? Didn’t I have some sort of elegantly designed organization system? He’d seen my library, after all, and he knew from firsthand experience what happens to people who mess with my systems and leave my things disorganized. No, I explained, I didn’t, because in my wildest dreams I never expected for there to be as many donations as there were, and by the time I realized I needed to develop a system, I was already overwhelmed. The poor mailman was delivering 10 or 15 books a day – by week 3, he had given up carrying them all together and started bringing them in using crates. My recycling bin was overflowing with boxes and my parents were wondering when they would get their counter space back.

At first it was exciting, you know? Look! Another book off the wish list! Tanita will be so excited, she’s been waiting for this one. Oh, I can’t wait to show this one to the debate team- they’ll totally be able to use this in their arguments. Wow! Something published in this decade for our nonfiction section! Ooh look – something more age-appropriate for the romance section!

After the excitement came the anxiety that other people feel when watching the final minutes of an exciting sporting event. Are we going to get all of the books?! Which ones will get left behind? Will we get enough copies for every family? Will someone buy the prequel to this book or are we stuck with the end of the story but not the beginning?

As the last few books were picked off the list and donations came in to help pay for the cost of luggage, there were simply no words to describe how grateful and, frankly, shocked I was at the spectacular show of support. From Facebook friends, to temple members, to teacher friends, and people I don’t even know, I just couldn’t believe how many people decided to contribute to this book drive. I wrote the name of every donor inside the books they sent, so that when the students pick up one of our shiny new books, they’ll get a sense for how many people around the world love them and want to help provide them with the tools and resources they need to be happy and successful. My kiddos know a lot of things and I hope to add this to the list of things they really internalize during their time at the Village. I hope these books show them how many people are invested in their educations, that people they don’t know and probably will never even meet are willing to support them, and that sometimes, all you have to do to get what you want is to be bold enough to ask for it. I hope these books remind them that the world is so big and so small at the same time, that there are billions of unique people in the world who are more similar than they are different, and that at the end of the day, there’s no better place to be then sitting somewhere safe and warm, with a good book and a hot cup of tea. I hope these books encourage my kiddos to read and to think and to wonder, and dare I say, to write a book of their own, so that someday, some future Cousin can put it on the shelf of the ASYV Family Library…

Now, if I could just figure out the easiest way to move 300 books to the other side of the world…