two months later…


An opportunity like this does not come often. Do not be afraid to be bold and to step outside your comfort zone. Because if you do, you might find yourself experiencing something you never could have imagined.

And good luck on your journey to Nyamasheke, I hope ya’ll don’t get car sick!


My advice is to be as intentional as you can (before, during, and after the trip). You’ve thought about this trip some already, keep doing so.

What do you want to get out of this experience, really? The knowledge you help create will live on, but what is most permanent is the impact this time will have on you. Be open to that change, be watching for it in yourself and others, and write it down!

Take lots of pictures and video! (They will help you remember)


These are some of my memories of Rwanda – small children carrying heavy jugs of water and little children carrying others smaller than they are, all with a fierce sense of independence. I remember goats tied up and cattle in peoples’ yards.  Drying clothing adorns trees resulting in a colorful display. MTN and other cell phone booths line the main roads with women selling mobile money in bright yellow vests.  Motos and cars honk to announce their presence and one has to be mindful to avoid walking into the ditches dug for the rainy season. Seatbelts are scarce, crosswalks are often suggestions with people walking wherever they’d like.  Paved main roads lead to dirt roads that then morph into switchbacks cut into the hills. People line up for water, surrounded by long lines of yellow jugs.  The school children all wear uniforms and wave excitedly as the bus passes by.  This country is known mainly for two things, the 1994 genocide and the amount of women in politics.  However, I think it should be known for so much more.  I’ve been humbled to witness the incredible work ethic of the people. I have been astounded by the beauty of this country and the kindness of the Rwandans I met.  I am grateful to have been welcomed in a way that made the month I spent there feel like home.


Neither words, photos or videos will truly show the reality of what we saw, heard, tasted, and felt. Our experiences were similar, yet different in how we perceived and reacted to them and that is why we decided to make this blog with the intention of capturing our nine different lenses. To say this summer was life changing will be a cliche and an understatement. I stumbled upon this in the most random fashion, however, there is something telling me that this was written for me and I am truly grateful for being given the opportunities I didn’t even know I needed.

I learned so much in the past couple months – how to code in Atlis.ti, how to analyze in STATA, how to sink and how to swim, how to live with four other equally confident HBIC’s. I learned that I love the PNW and that the human body and spirit has a limit and I’m still trying to find it. I learned so much about Rwanda and its resilient history and radiant present. I learned that we cannot rewrite our past, but we can dictate our future. I learned so much about traditional and modern contraceptive methods. I learned a thing or two about the preferred methods in Rwanda. I learned a little kinyarwandan. I learned so much about human relationships and a lot about myself. I learned that country music isn’t all that bad and that I can’t stereotype Texas. I learned how to dance and how to make a bracelet out of banana leaf fibers. I learned the lyrics to foreign songs and learned that no hill is too high to climb. I learned so much and am eternally grateful for that.

Rawness and honesty are traits I admire in others; so I will try my best to reciprocate that in saying that of course there were “dips” – we all experienced them. There were days when I missed my family and friends a lot. There were nights when I was scared a lizard or snake or some other dangerous creature would come crawling out of the shadows. There were times when people thought House Burera was falling apart. There was that one time when I fell ill and the pill popping was my only escape. There were moments when I felt despair – either because I didn’t understand a variable or when all my STATA inputs got deleted one hour before the symposium….but know this: those come with the package. And these perceived problems were so miniscule compared to the joy and elation I felt this summer that I hardly remember them. Rather, looking through my photos, I remember the Doop and how we laughed at the shape of the flowers in Ruhengeri and I remember Lili and our climb up that hill in Seattle and I remember Feist and how he was always willing to lend a helping hand. I remember AK and how he added a few words to all of our vocabularies (flick, flop, etc.) and I remember Dido and our transcription and coding sessions. I remember Hildog, Leah, and Seth who helped me – in and out of the classroom – since day one. I remember the list of quotes my peers and I came up with and the ice breaker games we played. I remember being blown away by how much I learned during my interview and the heavy pain in my chest when visiting the Kigali Memorial Centre.

My time in Bellingham and Kigali was incredible and now that I’m back at college, I’m getting asked “how was Africa” and slight bouts of reverse culture shock are coming in. But this isn’t over. The research continues. The relationships continue. Rwanda 2017. Rwanda for-e-ver.

To the next cohort: we are the originals and all others are imitators. Of course, I’m only kidding. Grab this experience by the horns and jump in with both feet – you won’t regret it. We’re excited to see what you come up with.

Enjoy these photos we’ve snapped along with way


Back at Birnam Woods in Bellingham

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaand we’re back. Roughly 30 hours. 3 flights. 3 continents. 5 countries. A ton of security checks. A lot of “bonjours.” Too many carbs. ZERO lost luggage and ZERO lost people (although as we were boarding the ‘Pride of Africa’ no one knew where Hilary and her kids were (spoiler: they made it safe and sound on to the flight)).

Any similarities and differences between this trip and the one we took one month ago?

This time around, we all traveled together from beginning to end. We took a different route to get to our destination. This time, we knew one another a lot better.

Both equally went by in a blur and both trips consisted of intense security checks of at least one individual in the group. On the way to Rwanda and on the way back to the US, an overhead luggage item was dropped on my head (although my hijab has proven, once again, to be a protector between me and any harm/danger that tries to come at me, so I’m good).

All in all – it was a successful journey back to this side of the pond. Along the way, we were greeted with smiles, nice weather and that French joie de vivre (althouh Elliot would beg to differ).

We met up with a freshly-shaven Seth and Marley at Birnam Woods and then split off to our apartments.

9 students tired and eager to roll into bed.

I hardly slept on the flights, so it makes sense that in the last 48 hours, I’ve spent 27 of them sleeping.

I think I got up a couple times to go to the restroom and once more to get food, because my body realized that sleep is essential, but so is food.

Now it’s Friday and we have class in a few hours – the hustle never stops.

We have a pretty exciting weekend ahead, but for now, enjoy these flicks we took along the way.




July 22 – 24

The past few days have been pretty busy and eventful, so we’re combining some of the days. On Saturday, we went to Kigali Public Library one last time to get some work done, read, explore, and drink their delicious mango smoothies. Then we made our way back to NSTC and quickly ate lunch before making our way to the pool – a bunch of people were there swimming, diving, and just messing around. Then we went Inema Gallary, which was opened up by two brothers. We were greeting by young children eager to show us their incredible dance skills. We even had some dance lessons, which was hard by quite fun! The rhythm and beat of the drum could be felt in one’s chest and it made me feel so alive!

We capped off the night with a solemn dinner in which we and the Ruhengeri students exchanged gifts, words of gratitude, stories and memories. It was the perfect end to our time together.

The next morning, we woke up a little early and said one last goodbye to the students and headed to Aziza – a cooperative run by women. We were able to spend the day with them and experience what they do in a typical day. We were dressed in clothes, peeled potatoes, fetched water from a well, cut grass for cattle, fed the cattle, had a simple, yet delicious lunch and learned how to weave bracelets from leaf fibers. We were greeted with singing, dancing, hugs, and unconditional warmth from the women at the cooperative. It was an experience that will remain with us indefinitely.

On Monday, we went to the market and Burera girls got some dresses and skirt tailored (same day!) and bought some other last minute items. We then came back and had a laid back class, in which we discussed ‘reverse culture shock’ and any advice we might have for the next cohort (we’re pretty excited to know who you all are and how you’ll make this experience your own).

The night winded down with an intense game of 3 on 3 at the basketball court in which there wasn’t a final winner, but at least everyone had a good time for the most part.

Dinner and then a comedy special were how we capped off our final night in Rwanda.

Tomorrow we fly out at 7.00pm. We’ll be going to Nairobi, Paris, and then Vancouver. Stay tuned for our crazy airport adventures.


Enjoy some photos we snapped over the past three days…




INES Students

Hey y’all!

The days are winding down and we’ve been busy trying to fit in last minute trips this week. On Thursday, some of us spent some time at the pool and some went to play a game of basketball. Afterwards, some members of the group went to the hospital to see Dido’s sister’s newborn baby boy! Afterwards, we all met up at a local Indian cuisine restaurant, which was so delicious.

The following day (Friday), some students went on a day trip to the west, while the rest of us hung back and went to afternoon tea and tried to finish up some work.


Josh’s first experience at high tea!

That’s just a little update, but for this blog, we wanted to dedicate it to four out of the five INES students that have been with us for the past three weeks (we did not receive consent to post the video of the fifth, so we will not)

Today, we have included short videos of Dido, Nelly, Claudette, and Alex. All seniors at INES – Ruhengeri in the Statistics and Applied Economics department. None of the INES nor the REU students knew what to expect when we went to pick them up, but over the past three weeks, we have lived together, conducted research together, interviewed together, ate together, traveled all over this country together, swam together, and most importantly, learned from one another. They taught us Rwandan customs and Ikinyarwandan. We taught them about life in the US and about qualitative research. It was an absolute pleasure getting to know these five individuals and we foresee nothing but success in their future.

Enjoy officially meeting: Dido, Nelly, Claudette, and Alex


Visiting the Rwandan district with the lowest Family Planning Use

Today was an adventure from the start.

A few of us woke up at 3 am with Hilary, and raced in taxis to the bus station to get good seats on the bus leaving at 3:50, bound for Nyamasheke, the Rwandan district that has seen the least improvement in family planning despite Rwanda’s gains overall.

We then piled into the bus (a generous term for a van that fits 30 people shoulder to shoulder if you’re really trying, and they were really trying). The drive was short, straight, and uneventful. Of course it wasn’t any of those things, this is Rwanda. It was 6 hours, winding up and down hills, with incredible views of lake Kivu.


The yellow road was the final leg of our trip

Once at Nyamasheke, we met with a hospital director and two nurses, discussing their ideas on why the district had been missed by Rwanda’s family planning boom. Some theories tossed around were heavier religious opposition to contraception, and a higher than average economic well-being to afford a larger family.


St. Paul’s is the largest church in the area we visited

The biggest purpose of our visit was to establish contacts for the next cohort of students to assemble focus groups of family planning nurses, which was a success!

After more bumpy taxi rides to a few other stops in preparation for the next group, we loaded the bus again.

It was a marathon trip back but such a blast!


On the bus ride back we sat next to a mother who asked the strangers nearby to take a turn holding her baby while she tended to her other child (and they each did!), there were also some students in a lively argument about the “real” population of Rwanda, and we were treated to all sorts of smells from rest stop vendors selling food through the van’s windows by shouted bargaining.

Now it’s time to sleep.






Symposium: July 19th

Hi people,

Today was a busy day at 81 degrees Fahrenheit (27.2 degree Celsius). We had a symposium today and presented our individual research with people from the University of Rwanda. The morning comprised of using Stata and coming up with a format for the presentation in the afternoon. In the afternoon, we were put in the Tennis club’s conference room and given a projector for the symposium. We had 4 guest from the university including Dr Dieudonne Muhoza and Prof. Ignace with his daughter and one of his research students.

The symposium went really well with all the students sharing their research topics, including the REU, Ruhengeri students and one from the University of Rwanda. There was also a presentation from Hilary and Alex on the qualitative research that we have done so far. It was refreshing to see some of the quotes from our various interviews being presented, it reaffirmed the reality of the work we are doing. We had a brief 30mins tea break where we got to interact with our guest and share experiences in life and our fields of study. After the break we regressed to the conference room and had a presentation from Dr Muhoza on family planning in Rwanda, who spoke in dept about the family planning program, its history and how it worked in relation to the Rwandan context. We then had stimulating talks about DHS, the future of family planning and population control among other things. In all, I can say that the symposium was a success and we all learned a lot from our guest, and vice versa, and gained a lot of insight into our own individual work.


The Market

July 18th

Today, ten of us boarded a public transportation bus and sped off towards the local market. We had to fight our way onto the bus and were packed in tight.  I was between Lexi and Josh in a seat meant for two. Once every seat was full, we took off.  To indicate that you wanted to get off of the bus, you tapped loudly on the window.  As soon as we got off of the bus we became the talk of the town. Children were following us from a safe distance and every head turned to stare at us.


Nali with the sugar cane

Alice was our guide for the day. She expertly wove her way through the crowd of vendors outside and led us to the inside market.  In every direction you looked were fresh fruits and vegetables for sale.  We were able to try sugar cane.  It was challenging to bite and chew, and you were not supposed to swallow any of it besides the sugar.  At each stall or vendor Alice explained to us what was for sale and the name of the item in Kinyarwandan.

We then went to a second market which had two levels.  The bottom was filled with produce but the top was filled with clothing and shoes. In both markets, people would smile at us and call us “Mazunga” which means foreigner.  After the two markets we walked around the neighborhood.  We passed a flour shop and women selling food on the street.

Once again, we attracted a crowd.  I noticed a young boy curiously staring at my camera, looking into the lens. I bent down to show him the photos of animals from the trip we took to Akagera National Park over the weekend.  Immediately I was surrounded by kids.  It was an incredible feeling sharing photos I love with the children.  It was a wonderful day exploring the markets of Kigali.


Showing the children my photos.

We then walked to the bus bay, boarded a bus, as crowded as the one that had brought us to the market, and headed home to the Sports Trust Club for lunch.



Josh walking back with a tired Leilani


Monday July 17

Today wasn’t too eventful, although we did get a lot done. A few students went with Hilary to  the northern province to meet with some providers and prepare for the next round of research, and this took all day.

Other students hung back and worked on STATA and Atlis.ti.

AK, Doopashika, and Tong Yuan went on a morning walk and later that afternoon, the rest of the gang went on an afternoon stroll to the nearby mall, just to look around.

Not a lot of photos were taken, but here is a snippet of my STATA inputs and the views from the mall.


Sunday July 16

Compared to yesterday morning, we got to sleep in a little later. Breakfast was at 8:00am. We ate, we chatted, some of us took one last stroll around the co-op. Then everyone went their separate ways, either to hang out, pack, make friendship bracelets, or look around the gift shop.


A card and earrings I got at the gift shop

At 11:00, we packed into the bus and started our long journey back to Kigali.
Back at NSTC, lunch was waiting for us and we were delighted to see the staff again!
Some people in the group were still very tired and went off to their beds for much-needed naps and others began unpacking.

Josh, Erin, and I went off to the pool and Dido, Tong Yuan, Wes, and AK went off to play ultimate and basketball. After two hours in the pool, it was time to get out. We met up with the gang at dinner (which was so good) and then I went back home to finish up some things and also tried to watch a movie (got to about three minutes before I passed out).
We have 8 more nights in Rwanda and time is running fast. I hate reminding myself of this fact because a wave of emotions runs through me – surprise at how quickly time has flown by, sorrowfulness because leaving this country and the people I’ve met will be no easy task, anxiousness because school is literally a month away, excitement to get back to Bellingham and explore, determination to get back to WWU and continue this research, elation because I will soon see my family and friends, and the strongest emotion is probably gratitude – for this opportunity and so many others.

Similar to how we all came from different walks of life, after this is all over, we will continue down different paths. Some of us might never see each other again, but there is only one Lili that I got to share a roadside mess with. Only one Akrofi, who understands my African memes, who similarly loves GoT, and whose hands I will never again look at. Only one Elliot, whose sass levels not even I can match. Only one Erin, who I can have deep conversations with – about the prison industrial complex one moment and about boyfriends the next. Only one Tong Yuan who has taught me the importance of vocalizing one’s frustrations and who I can count on for an adventure. Only one Joshua, who is my language pal and is the only person to tell me to sink myself in the pool, but who I will also trust to save my life a few minutes later. There can only be one Doopashika, who is literally five feet tall, but has filled House Burera with laughter and joy and her name. There is obviously only one Wes (although he has, like, a thousand names) whose dabs and Texan tendencies amuse, yet slightly scare me.

8 nights. 8 people who will make those nights all the worth while. As we were making our way back to Kigali yesterday and I saw the bright purple of the Babyl buildings blend in with the red of the Airtel and Mutzig shops and the yellow of the MTN and Skol stores to form a lively spectrum down these Rwandan roads, I reflected on my weekend and the past month and appreciated literally every hill – metaphorical and literal – I climbed in Washington and Rwanda.


Akagera National Park

Saturday July 15th.

Our morning started with breakfast at 5:30am as we were trying to reach the park bright and early.  While we were eating, we were treated to the start of an amazing sunrise. Wes had the artistic foresight to take a time lapse: Wes’ Timelapse

The group loaded up into our trusty van (dubbed Vincent Van-Go – thanks to Luke for the clever name) and we set off for the park.  We turned onto a dirt road and bumped our way into morning.

Once at the entrance to the park, we visited the gift shop. We soon got on the bus and headed out, ready for adventure. Our tour guide, Peninah, was extremely knowledgeable about the park and its inhabitants and was always ready to answer any question we had.

Driving along, there were blue banners meant to confuse the tsetse flies and protect the animals (both humans and park residents).  The flies are attracted to the blue because they think the blue is a blue coconut snowcone, their favorite flavor (JK).


Our wonderful, fantastic exuberant, knowledgable, and experienced guide- Peninah


Akagera National Park Map

Map of Park


Group Photo

Our group photo at 7am


At lunch we ate at the hippo beach, munching on our sandwiches whilst hippos lounged on the shore. 

The trip totaled at around twelve hours. It was very long and exhausting but an overall amazing and unforgettable experience.

List of Animals we saw:

  • Vervet Monkey  
  • Impala
  • Cape Buffalo
  • Warthogs
  • Hippos
  • TseTse Flies
  • Topi
  • Waterbuck
  • Zebra
  • Heron
  • Massia Giraffe
  • Hamerkop (bird)
  • Fish Eagle
  • Nile Crocodile
  • Cattle Egret

We returned ready for dinner at the Urugo Women’s Opportunity Center where a game of “PIG” ensued. {PIG is a version of “spoons” where instead of grabbing a spoon you stick out your tongue and the last to follow suit, loses.}

For dinner we were surprised with some delicious pizza! We’re not sure what the toppings were, but we ate it all the same! It was a good change to our usual Rwandan food. At dinner time we continued playing with the cards and Wes decided to build a tower. We each watched eagerly as he worked to build a stable and aesthetic tower of cards.

We were able to go to bed with the knowledge that tomorrow didn’t have a 5AM alarm  waiting to wake us up. We took advantage of this opportunity by exploring the women’s cooperative at night and conversing with one another. Lili was hard at work making friendship bracelets for her new colleagues. AK provided us some entertainment by showing us his top dance moves. He and Wes then competed against one another to see who could do the most extravagant flip.

-Wes, Elliot, Lili, and Josh