Tuesday, July 18, 2017

WRAPPING UP RWANDA

When I think back to our Rwanda trip, there are so many cherished memories.  The blog posts that I wrote definitely highlight a lot of our experiences, but there are so many things that didn't fit into a neat category.  I decided to write one more catch all post with the odds and ends that helped make this an unforgettable adventure.

IMG_9647

I'll break this down in some large bullet points for us all.

▪️Celebrity Sightings:  While in Amsterdam the first time, we actually recognized CeeLo Green who was headed to a concert in Latvia.  He was kind enough to take a picture with John and Violet. 😂

IMG_8724

Not 30 minutes later, John thought that he saw Harrison Ford boarding our plane.  We thought he must just be in celebrity sighting mode after seeing CeeLo, but no, it was actually Harrison Ford boarding our flight to Kigali. 😳🤣 We ended up going through customs with Harrison and his wife, Calista Flockhart, who did get to witness the twins having meltdowns and gave us commiserating looks.  It certainly felt like we were living in an alternate reality.

▪️People who Helped Us:  The house where we stayed was very nice, but the best thing about it was the people who were there to help us.  Shauntel cooked our meals and kept us fully stocked on fresh juice. She also swooped in to help clean up a potty-training accident, which was kind and amazing, and I would regularly find her playing with the twins.

IMG_9422

Shaka acted as our security guard and helped run errands and also was often playing with our kids.

Untitled

Epimaque was our driver, and we were in such capable hands.  These people were each SO KIND to our children and seemed to genuinely delight in them, and they made our time in Rwanda that much richer.  I cried when it was time to hug them all goodbye.

IMG_9448

▪️Genocide Memorial: We did get the opportunity to visit the Genocide Memorial, which was a powerful experience, even the second time.  I wrote at length about it last time, but it should be noted how much that marks the country.  I am always amazed at the resilience and courage and forgiveness on display in Rwanda after such extreme tragedy.

IMG_9622

▪️Being a Spectacle: It goes without saying that we stood out as a group.  🙈😂  One afternoon, we were in need of getting out of the house, and we decided to take a walk to get some cold drinks.  We ambled up the road a bit with our 8 kids mostly walking, sometimes being carried, along.  Once we made it to a shop, we turned into a display with people taking photos and videos, including us.  But, we got our cold Cokes and Sprites and got to see a little more of Rwandan life.

IMG_9195
IMG_9201

▪️Low Points: Obviously, with a bunch of children in tow, there were bound to be some tough moments.  Thankfully, these were mostly pretty minor, and I am still thanking the Lord for the hand of protection that he had on our group.  No one got seriously ill.  We did have some pretty bad nose bleeds from the twins, including one that spread blood all over the floor in a play land, and Violet did throw up as we were boarding our flight out of Kigali. The other low point was anytime a child had to take malaria medication.  For us, this was once a week, and for the Heads, it was once a day. 😱 Trying to get your child to understand that taking the medicine is better than getting malaria is a difficult task indeed.  It did get better by the end of the trip, but I am not sad that we don't do it all the time.

▪️Local Markets: It's always fascinating to me to shop in local markets and see what people's daily lives and foods look like.  We got to shop a couple of different times and also bought pineapple off the back of a bike on one occasion.  Joel said it looked like really good pineapple. 🍍 When asked what the tip off for "good pineapple" was, he said, "I just know." And that pineapple was 💯.  So good. Most pineapple in America is really only hoping to be Rwandan pineapple.

IMG_9286
IMG_9285
IMG_9873
IMG_9883
IMG_4946
IMG_9379
IMG_9382
IMG_9387
IMG_9394
IMG_9395
IMG_9400IMG_9402

▪️Adoption Education: I was really curious about what it would be like to take our multi-cultural family on the road.  In Rwanda, adoption has not historically looked like what it looks like in the United States - often children that would be taken into the home would not be considered full family members.  Especially when we were in the airport, we were questioned about William and Violet and whether or not they were actually our children.  I didn't take offense at this, but it did make getting through security even more taxing.  One security guard asked me to explain it all to him and then thanked me when I did.  Interestingly, Joel and Annie said that people actually asked them if William and Violet were darker white people, because they are much lighter than Rwandan people.  It is fascinating to see how people are viewed differently throughout the world.

IMG_9647

▪️Cultural Differences: Courtney and I got to spend a wonderful morning with Annie.  We talked about many things, but one of the things that was most fascinating to me was about appearances.  In Rwanda, women talk about gaining weight the same way we American women talk about losing weight.  They trade ideas and tell each other of stuff that works to be able to put on more kilos.  There is also a skin lightening industry there, and I got to explain that in America, we white women like to try to get our skin darker.  It was striking to see how beauty is perceived so differently based on what is valued and to realize how easy it is to be dissatisfied with whatever it is we have.

IMG_9646

▪️Traveling with Friends: Having this adventure with dear friends is something I will never forget.  The Heads were fantastic travel buddies on every level, and we had so much fun!  It is a true gift to have friends that can run the spectrum of emotions and experiences with you and be able to laugh about it at the end of the day. 

IMG_4819
IMG_9006

▪️Traveling with 8 Kids: Though I am not in a hurry to book a huge international trip in the coming months with 8 children, I will definitely consider doing it again in the future.  These kids did so well so much of the time.  We asked a lot of them, driving literally from border to border of the country, keeping an intense schedule and going on not enough sleep.  There were hard times FOR SURE, but there were really good times to.  I will never forget having a Moana sing-a-long with all the kids knowing every word to the songs and being absolutely thrilled with it.  It was one of those moments where life felt so incredibly sweet, and I'm so grateful to have those memories.

IMG_9441
IMG_0318

I can't believe this trip has come and gone, and I'm so thankful for all that is represented for our family.  Thanks for reading along!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

BONUS DAY IN AMSTERDAM

Through some bizarro booking error (I think it was mine 😬), we were scheduled to connect on a different flight out of Amsterdam than the Heads were.  Our flight out of Rwanda was delayed, and as we neared Amsterdam, it became clear to John and I that we were going to miss our connection.  The Heads were not at all worried, and that is the moment we realized we were on different flights.  They made their connection, and we did not.  After calling Delta and rebooking through a different city, we realized we would get home much much later than the original schedule.

As we stood in the airport considering our options, I began googling how far from the city center that we were.  On the fly, we made the decision to stay the night in Amsterdam, rebook our flights to go the next day and try to see a little of the city.  We had an extra outfit and toiletries for everyone in our carry-on, so we left our luggage in a locker at the airport and struck out for an unexpected adventure!

fullsizeoutput_6600

As extreme travel junkies, John and I were so excited to see a new European city and country.  And, we are so very glad that we did.  Amsterdam, in a nutshell, is gorgeous and charming.  Our experience in Amsterdam with four young children after spending the night on a plane and a week in Rwanda had some intense highs and lows.  I'm gonna bring you my list of Amster-dos and Amster-don'ts.

fullsizeoutput_6614
fullsizeoutput_65f5
fullsizeoutput_6610
fullsizeoutput_660f

Amster-do: Do take in the flowers that seem to grow everywhere.  So beautiful - I was slightly obsessed.

fullsizeoutput_663d
fullsizeoutput_60d4
fullsizeoutput_617b
fullsizeoutput_6626
fullsizeoutput_6175
fullsizeoutput_617c

Amster-do: Do stop at a delightful cafe for a delicious lunch of crepes, sandwiches and a most delectable dessert line-up.

fullsizeoutput_60d2
fullsizeoutput_661f
fullsizeoutput_661e

Amster-don't:  Don't be surprised when your daughter who loves to see new toilets needs to go to the bathroom everywhere, and you get pointed to crazy bathrooms around corners and up neon-lit tiny, steep staircases with no railings.  Apparently, this is pretty normal.  Also, don't think that you can use a bathroom without paying a Euro.

Amster-do: Do stroll through the city marveling at the adorable boutiques and amazing architecture and the quaintness of it all.

fullsizeoutput_6627
fullsizeoutput_60d9
fullsizeoutput_6628
fullsizeoutput_6629
fullsizeoutput_662e

Amster-don't: Don't be surprised when you see a lot of cows and one of your 4 year olds wants to shout, "EAT MORE CHICKEN!" all the time.  😂 To be fair, this happened a lot in Rwanda as well.  We just like to share the CFA love everywhere we go. 🐄

fullsizeoutput_6172

Amster-do: Do appreciate how Amsterdam is one of the most bike-friendly cities imaginable.

fullsizeoutput_65f1
fullsizeoutput_60dd
fullsizeoutput_60d7

Amster-don't: Don't expect to be able to navigate easily through the bikes and people and cars.  Especially if you have some straggly children. 😬😝 This proved increasingly stressful as the day went on, and we were more and more tired, and the bikes seemed to multiply and come whizzing out of nowhere.

Amster-do: Do go inside an old church to get a sense of truly stunning architecture and history.

fullsizeoutput_662c
fullsizeoutput_662d
fullsizeoutput_6177

Amster-don't: Don't let you children touch anything.  Especially the giant model of the church tower that is much more wobbly than you thought it would be. 😳🤦🏻‍♀️ Thankfully, it did not come crashing down, but we quickly made our exit after that.

fullsizeoutput_6178

Amster-do: Do take a canal cruise.  It is a fantastic way to see the city.

fullsizeoutput_6631
fullsizeoutput_6632
fullsizeoutput_6635

Amster-don't: Don't expect to enjoy your canal cruise if you take extremely tired children with you.  This was one of the low-points of our day, because the twins were especially done, and we were trapped in a boat with a bunch of strangers.  It was pretty bad.

fullsizeoutput_6637

Amster-do: Do see the Anne Frank House.  How amazing!  Do get reservations.  We obviously didn't have those, and we decided not to wait in the 3 hour long line to get in. 😱 That would be another Amster-don't.

fullsizeoutput_6186
fullsizeoutput_6187

Amster-don't: Don't let your son leave his cherished puppy inside a random store.  This will cause a lot of stress and extra walking.  We did find him, and I did sit with Violet who was asleep while the others hunted down Puppy.

fullsizeoutput_663b

Amster-do: Do check out Vondelpark, the Central Park of Amsterdam.  It is gorgeous and boasts many restaurants and playgrounds, as well as some of the city's more famous museums.

fullsizeoutput_6644
fullsizeoutput_6651

Amster-don't: Don't wait until after six to eat at the beautiful restaurant with a playground.  It closes at six. 😒 Cold hot dogs by the water are not as good, but they do fill the hungry bellies. I ate a Larabar.

fullsizeoutput_6646

Amster-do: Do congratulate yourself on making it through a day like this and getting to have an incredible experience, even if there were extreme low-points.

fullsizeoutput_6653
fullsizeoutput_65f4
fullsizeoutput_6630

Amsterdam was indeed gorgeous, and I want to go back and see the million and one things that we missed.  And, I want to go to all the other European cities that I haven't visited.  Basically, I super love traveling.  But, we did find the limits of our family, and we should have stopped our touring earlier in the day.  By late afternoon, we were beyond fried and done and over everything.  We pushed our children far past where we could reasonably expect to have good experiences.  It's a tough balance, and sometimes, we get it wrong.  But, we did get to see Amsterdam, and we are so grateful to have gotten that unexpected opportunity!

fullsizeoutput_6180