We have a new blog site.

We are in the middle of creating our life  . . .  Only a couple weeks from now, we will visit Rwanda.  We expect to create a sustainable system of women’s healthcare, one that will reduce infant mortality, maternal mortality, and eventually reduce the rate of orphans in Rwanda.

Our website is up and running, but note that much of it is still under construction.  The blog site to our website is here:  http://web.me.com/czilar/Kunda_Byarago/Blog/Blog.html.  Check it out!!

Love to you all!

Christopher and Le Zilar

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Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress.com. This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!

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Getting ready to go

Getting ready to go

Sunday, March 15, 2009


It is the wind-down time.  Contrary to last year’s trip, tonight was spent reminiscing about all that we learned and all the simple pleasures we experienced. 


We are in the middle of a capital city, yet the stars shine brightly in the night sky.  In the US, you must be in a rural area to see so many stars at night. 


The milk products, especially yogurt, are outstanding in Rwanda.  The fruit is fresh year round.


In spite of one of our members being pick-pocketed, this is a safe place, virtually no violent crime.  Even in the most impoverished areas, it is safe to walk at night.


The birds sing the most beautiful songs.  I now find it relaxing to hear them in the early morning. 


Things have dramatically changed since we were here last year.  Many more buildings have been built.  Fewer Rwandese are staring at us, except in the rural areas.  There seem to be more beggars than there were last year.  There are definitely more muzungus here.   I counted three Rwandese roller-blading.  I think we saw five or ten people riding bicycles for sport, dressed up in bicycle outfits.  Each night, I saw at least one Rwandese couple holding hands.  I spotted many women wearing pants. 


The Rwandese, I think, are much like our early forefathers of the US.  Imagine that in 1776, some men sat down and declared the thirteen colonies were liberated from the UK.  How long did it take before the populace found out?  What did they think?  After the Revolutionary War, how long did it take for laws to be established?  Even our friend, Eddy, could not remember when Rwanda’s Independence Day is celebrated (July 1).  I suspect that post Revolutionary War, people did not know when Independence Day was.


People’s status, or strata, can determine some cultural dynamics.  We have figured out that our hosts are all highly educated and – compared to Rwanda’s standards – are privileged.  Their points of view are sometimes skewed by their social status.  Tonight, we asked everyone to tell the group where they were born.  Nearly all the Rwandese guests were born outside Rwanda.  Most had lived as refugees in their childhoods.  Based on that, it is clear that they all had to work much harder than the average US citizen to get where they are now.


We miss our kids.  A lot.  Funny, last week when the head master of Rwanda’s premier school asked me what my greatest desire in life was, I blurted out, “more time with my wife and kids.” 


At this writing, it is now after 3am.  I am tired, excited to see my kids, excited to share stories with friends and coworkers, excited to have consistent running water . . .  but also deeply saddened that we have to leave.  This trip was more than I needed for confirmation that we are meant to be here.  Some of the people here have become family – more than friends.  (NOTE to my mom . . .  No, we do not expect to be living in the mud huts, even though they are extremely common here.)


“Amakuru,” my friend asked me tonight.  I.e. “How is it going?”  I lied.  “Ni meza.”  I.e. “It’s all good.”  I remember writing in a blog last year that no matter where I am, I will forever be missing someone while also looking forward to seeing my loved ones. 

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I do – again!

I do – again!

Another TIA J

Saturday, March 14


On Saturday, we spent nearly the whole day celebrating the 10th anniversary of when I proposed marriage to Le.  Before we could begin, however, I needed to find a taxi that would pick us up at Eddy’s (we had lots of ceremonial supplies to carry).  Eddy told me not to pay more than 3500 Rwandan Francs, the equivalent of about $6.30.  I walked the half-mile to the taxi area and found one taxi waiting.  I stepped into his car to negotiate.  He started at 10,000!  I eventually got him down to 8,000, but he was not going to budge.  I think taxi drivers are the same worldwide.  About that time, the clouds began shedding all their weight and fury.  I felt stuck.  I was in the taxicar, the rain was falling down hard.  There were no other taxis nearby.  And this driver was asking more than double what I wanted to spend.  So I called Eddy. 


Eddy told me to get out of the car and walk away.  I told him he was crazy.  The rain was pouring down, I needed a taxi immediately, and there were no others to be seen.  So he negotiated with the driver by phone.  The driver agreed to $5,000.  Eddy told me I should still get out of the vehicle.  However, I knew I had a very nervous bride waiting for me to pick her up in a taxi and time was running out.  “$5,000 it is.”


We started off with a renewal of vows ceremony at a restaurant, Chez John.  The setting was perfect.  There were 15 people in attendance, most of them Rwandese.  Afterward, we had a buffet lunch with servers standing around, pouring water, soda, or wine.  What a joy it was to tell my lovely wife how much I love her! 


We had sent our friends numerous notices by text message and by email that we were planning to start promptly at 11:00am.  I wanted them to understand that we actually intended to start at 11:00, not 11:30, not 12:00.  11:00.  Except for the few people who arrived early to help us set up, guests did not start arriving until about 11:10am.  All the time, our friends, including our Rwandese friends who know us well, kept saying, “TIA.”  (This is Africa.)


The ceremony was perfect.  Beautiful flowers, touching message of blending families, blending cultures.  Eddy stood up for me.  Nadja stood up for Le.  And Catherine, our friend at whose home we held our wedding nearly 10 years ago, officiated the ceremony.  Pam Silverstein played the mandolin.  Trip and Sara were the camera team.  Upon return to the USA, I hope to put portions of the ceremony up on my MySpace site.


One of our friends paid for us to stay at the hotel, Beausejour.  It is the same hotel at which our friends are staying and the same one at which we stayed last year.  Great place.  My lovely wife said all she wanted was a warm bath and a good nap.  Our room did not have a tub.  Nor did it have hot water in the shower because the hot water knob was broken.  I tried to convince the hotel manager to allow us to switch rooms, but he was adamant that we keep the room.  He sent the mechanic to our room to fix the shower.  That was fine.  Of course, it took two hours.  They had to go into town to buy parts first.  Then, when they were done, they insisted that a cleaning person come in and mop up the bathroom.  So, we used the bathtub in our friends’ room.  Not very romantic, but then again, TIA.

My lovely bride and I had a few minutes to nap, get dressed, and then we went out on the town with our friends.  Very nice.  We were so tired, we slept until 9am the next day. 


The only thing that would have made it better is if our loved ones could have been there:  our kids, our friends Adie and Robb, our families.  We lit candles during the ceremony to honor them and symbolize their presence. 

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a few recent pictures

A few minutes of intense rain fills the gutters along the roadside.  This shot was from a high spot, so I imagine it was worse at the lower altitudes in the city.
My lovely wife and I were looking at property for sale.  Lots of tall anthills.  These two anthills weren’t even the biggest ones.
One of the common sights one sees on the highways, people carrying heavy loads on bicycles.  How does this young man keep all those bananas balanced on that bike?
So many people living in close quarters . . .  It’s funny, in the USA, we came up with a concept called "community gardens."  But in Rwanda, it’s a necessary way of life, especially in the rural areas.
This is probably the single most common sight in the rural areas, mud-brick homes with one door, sometimes with windows.  They tend to be about 6 or 7 feet tall and cover about 100-200 square feet.  I figured that these homes are the real reason there are so many people walking along the streets, even in the most remote of places.  I suspect these homes get very hot in the daytime, so people need to hang out outside, even if there is nothing to do. 
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Friday, March 13, 2009


We went nearly four full days without running water.  Our hosts know that this is normal and they have several 5-gallon drums in which they hold water.  We had emptied the last one yesterday.  Of course, we were doing all we could to conserve.  We continued to wear dirty clothes.  We did not wash dishes.  We limited our bathing.  We limited our toilet use.  Now we understand why there is a lot of natural body odor in certain sectors of the city. 


Last night, the water finally came back on.  Even though it was late, our hosts spent an enormous amount of time refilling all the holding drums.  Nadia awoke early and started doing her laundry. 


I am down to one shirt that is clean.  All of the rest of my clothes are filthy.  I have a meeting this afternoon with the Minister of Health.  At least I will have a shower J


Yesterday, I visited our friends at the hotel.  I took my toiletries with me in anticipation that I could borrow their bathroom.  I wanted to be clean for my meeting with the school headmaster.  Alas, just as I finished lathering my face with shaving cream, the hotel’s water quit running.  There I was, lather all over, no running water.  The faucet did allow some water, but it was running at a little more than a trickle.  It took me an hour to bathe – if you can call it that.


The meeting with the school headmaster, Ron Wallace, was great.  We were joined by Ron’s assistant, Gesbard. Ron bought me a nice lunch.  We spent the better part of two hours getting to know each other.  Ron is a visionary.  His goal is to be the last muzungu headmaster of his school. 


Ron’s story is provocative.  He used to be a school administrator in Calgary, Alberta.  As he sat in his Calgary office last year, he contemplated his long time dream of doing international service.  He looked down and saw an advertisement for an opening in Rwanda in a newspaper sitting on his desk.  He emailed the contact, and by the end of the day, was offered a job.  He moved here last August. 


By the end of the meeting, it became clear that Ron and Gesbard wanted to know how much salary it would take to hire someone like me.  They have a large proposal they have sent to the Rwandan government.  Rwanda is requiring that all schools teach in English by January 2010.  Every teacher who is not fluent in English at that time will be fired.  However, they have not set up any infrastructure to manage such an enormous task.  Green Hills Academy, the school Ron administrates, wants to help by training teachers to speak English, including setting up the infrastructure (such as train-the-trainers, etc.).  If the proposal is funded, they will be looking for a project manager. 


I imagine since the President’s wife is on Green Hills’ board of directors and she is one of the three founders of the school, it seems likely the government will fund the project.  The president’s children attend Green Hills.

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Funny thing happened on the way to the market

Funny thing happened on the way to the market

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I met up with several team members at the end of the day today.  We were in a famous restaurant, Chez Lando.  This restaurant is mentioned in nearly every book that gives an account of the genocide. 


Anyway, a couple of Rwandese came in with a muzungu.  Normally I do not pay much attention to the other muzungus, especially those who I do not know, but this lady, whose name is Lisa, was clearly and actively working on her KinyaRwandan.  I decided to approach her just to tell her that I appreciated hearing another muzungu learning the local language.  You see, virtually every muzungu I have met so far, even those who have been living in Rwanda for a long time, do not learn the language.  Granted, most or all of them know French, which is a widely spoken second language for Rwandese.  So, I was impressed to find a muzungu who was learning KinyaRwandan. 


I first approached Lisa and her Rwandese friends by excusing myself into their conversation and telling them I was interested in embarrassing our team, which is something I am particularly good at (or so I have heard).  Now, what do you think were the odds of meeting someone from Spokane?  Whose best friend recently had a baby in my wife’s office?  Turns out, Lisa’s friend was seen by my wife a few weeks back and had told my wife about Lisa and told Lisa about our team.  So, we all knew there was another Spokanite in Rwanda somewhere. 


Lisa is doing some freelance work for the Rwandan Ministry of Education. 


I enjoy hearing our team tell this story.  It usually involves the comment, “You know how Christopher is . . .”

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