Saturday, November 24, 2007

neediness and thanks.

i don’t have the energy to write this...

BUT i am feeling much better. thank you for asking. i was, as of tuesday, able to eat a full meal.

just in time for thanksgiving...

thanksgiving was surprisingly good in Kigali. the american embassy took it upon themselves to import turkey and pumpkin pie so that we could all feel at home. It was very sweet of them. I’m pretty sure every American in town showed up (there were over 200 in attendance), and waited 45 minutes in line for food (i had to go last because i didn’t RSVP in time... of course :). It was worth every minute. There’s something really beautiful about bonding with other Americans on such occasions. Who said we didn’t have a culture? Jealous europeans, that’s who.
(Justin, Amy, Me and Jenny at Thanksgiving dinner)

AND, thanksgiving morning we played flag football at the sports center in town! there were 25 of us, 4 teams and I scored 3 touchdowns! our team was the best... and that’s all that mattered. My family called me on skype for, I believe, the first time in history, and it absolutely made my day. After dinner, we further stuffed ourselves with popcorn and peanut m&m’s and watched “Love Actually” to get into the “christmas spirit”. it was a good day.

(american football)

i tried calling my parents on skype the other night. i was badly dehydrated because the thought of water was making my gag, so i was calling to see what i should do. the skype connection was splotchy and all they heard was "i'm really sick" in a pathetic voice...and then it cut out. within 5 minutes i had received 5 phone calls from various friends and had a personal visit from the minister of commerce, Rosemary, who brought her husband and her doctor along... by way of her cell phone. over the next few days rosemary was an angel, sending fruit baskets and fresh juice and texting me 3 times a day to check in.

all quite overwhelming, actually. but it's very nice to know you're cared for... even in africa.

when i think about things i’m thankful for... oh forget it. does anyone want to hear another personal dialogue from the girl living in africa on how we should all be more thankful than we are? i’m not so interested in “shoulding” to be thankful... and i doubt you are either. i think we’d all just rather be truly thankful. (Lord, give us all eyes to see what you’ve given us.)

There’s a quote in my new favorite devotional book that says (Jesus is speaking):

“hasn’t it ever occurred to you that this or that grace was given to you because of some prayer said for you, or some priest’s blessing, or what your parents won by their efforts, or because of my divine compassion, or the goodness of My mother? Don’t ever get the idea that the cause is any goodness of your own or anything in yourself.”

“He and I” by Gabrielle Bosis

(ps. every woman i know should own this book. you can get it on amazon or

now, i don’t think Jesus is saying here that we are crap... but saying how much our lives depend on others... on their prayers, their faithfulness, their love. i’m truly humbled by this. my mom prays for me. my grandma prays for me. my friends pray for me. mrs. bell prays for me. the beautiful women in our women’s prayer group listen to the Holy Spirit and pray for me. if i believe that prayer is powerful, which i do, i literally owe them my life. where would i be without their prayers? i don’t really want to know...

when people say “i’m praying for you” i believe them. i try not to use that phrase lightly. because i am saying “i am petitioning to the Lord Almighty on your behalf, that He will do GOOD things in your life!”

wow. how did we ALL get so lucky?

because of an insight of a dear friend, i have been thinking about the nature of my previous blogs. i like writing blogs. it helps me to document my time while communicating with the outside world... but it’s definitely kept to that: semi-personal documentation that i wouldn’t mind if anyone in the world read.

i think the reason i keep my letters within the safe boundaries of humorous stories and sicknesses is because i’m afraid if i talk about the most personal/important thing in my life (i.e. GOD) that it will sound like those missionary letters, which, bless their hearts, i usually have difficulty reading... mostly because they seem inhuman to me (which i know isn’t true... just an impression i can’t shake). and since God is the most human thing i know of... i mean, he’s the most real thing about my humanity... i want to avoid dehumanizing Him at all costs. But i think that’s more of an excuse. i’m probably just scared.

so here i am, i’m in bed, at a guesthouse in Kibuye, waiting for inspiration of what to write. i feel most of my life is that... waiting for inspiration. and in the meantime i either make myself busy, or just sit and wait. each has it’s downside. but the latter option at least leaves room for surprises.

so, what have i done in the last 3 weeks? close to nothing, from my perspective. i spent the first 2 weeks lying in bed, at the mercy of those kind enough to care for me and your prayers. at this point, it’s too hard to justify my presence in africa... so i’ve given that up. when people here ask “what exactly do you do here” i’ve started to say “i don’t really know”. i mean, i have some ideas but they’re all sorta lose associations, not really practical jobs. by the time i got over dysentery, my boss, eric, was bedridden with a virus. figures. oh, satan, you little devil!

i’ve long since given up the notion that i’m here to change africa. mostly i feel like i’m supposed to let africa change me. of course, God through africa. is it changing me? i hope so. i guess you’re a better judge of that than i.

all i know is that when i’m here, I NEED God. I need Him because i’m sick. I need Him because i don’t know what to do when i wake up at 7am, and shopping or hanging out with friends isn’t an option. I need Him to tell me what the hell to do with my life.

i will never forget the time at the AMIA conference, when a rich white guy asked Archbishop Kolini

“what are we, in the west, supposed to do with all our money”

The room full of suburbanites leaned in for the answer.

Archbishop paused for a moment, and replied, simply and unforgettably:

“The question for you is, do you need God? If you need Him, everything will fall into place, if you don’t, you’re in trouble”

This answer has haunted me since that day. How do I NEED God? I mean, I know the ways that I think he might be providing... but even those things are removed, and seen through the lens of my own effort (i.e, you work to eat). But NEED is desperate. It’s needy. You know, NEEDY. Like the relationship that suffocates you. Do I feel that way with God? I don’t think I do very often. The closest I’ve felt to it in a while was lying on that hotel bed in Cameroon, wanting to rip my insides out. I needed God in that moment. And, in that moment, it felt like my life was truly in perspective.(Lord, help us to need you more.)

Because, i think, that only in our need are we in our rightful place... and do we truly see our thankfulness. And it’s not things we SHOULD be thankful for, it’s what we actually are thankful for. Jesus, who loves us terribly, above all.

i don’t know if any of this makes sense. but i have a lot of love for those of you i love...(i think you know who you are) and i’m looking forward, more than ever, to be with you for christmas.

let me know how you’re doing and what you think.

God’s peace,



the images are mostly from the other day when i went to Ruhungo district with my friend, Justin Hughen, to document his work there. this community is made up of refugees from Tanzania [people who fled Rwanda during the genocide and had set up their lives in Tanzania, only to be kicked out by the government, decades later, and have all their possessions taken away (cows, houses, chickens, everything). they were sent to rwanda with nothing but the clothes on their back and are now being set up in random communities, out in the middle of nowhere, without food or work. can you imagine? i can't. in this particular district, 20 (that's 2-0) families were living in one abandoned house, as big as my living room in west chicago].

Justin had installed a water pump a few weeks back and we went out the other day to deliver some blankets and mosquito nets... which doesn't begin to cover the needs of this community. but the most beautiful thing about these people was their gratefulness. not once did they ask for a handout. they only said thanks.

the chief of the village --the one in the picture holding hands with justin-- hitchhiked on a truck carrying beans for 3 hours the other day to come to justin's office, just to say "thank you". (--the story of the ten lepers rings a bell.) after thanking justin, he went to leave, not even asking for 2 dollars for a bus ride back.

when we went back on friday, he presented Justin with this letter:

Dear Sir,

I hereby kindly apply for a job from you which will help me to live.

I’m very courageous and brave to do whatever work or job you can give me, essential is to find how I can get my life.

I hope you will consider this application favorably, and I wish to assure you that I will do my best to give satisfaction if you give me that job.

Faithfully yours,


when we left, he leaned in the window of the car and pointed to Justin and exclaimed: "Dis is my FRE-end!" and then he paused, looked at me and said "an YOU is my NEW friend!"

God bless these beautiful people.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

weddings, cameroon, amoebic dysentery and pulling money out of my underpants... Oh, the many-ness (and mini-ness) of our stories...

i've been lying in bed, wanting to rip my insides out, for 4 days.

as of this morning, thanks to the belgian embassy for letting me use their doctor, i have been diagnosed with Dysenterie Amibienne: translated: amoebic dysentery. comes from the root word "dysentery" from the oregon trail computer game. it really is as gross as it sounds. i, maggie ritchie, am officially "home" to thousands (maybe millions) of little, hairy (probably... just because they have to be as gross as possible) creatures who are living, feasting, procreating and burrowing into the walls of my intestines (and everyone here loves to remind me of what, exactly, is going on inside my body.) in these cases, i make the strong choice to NOT believe in the facts of medicine. it has been said "diagnose are like fairy tales: they're only as true as you want them to be." (but you should still take the medicine you're prescribed:)

[how, exactly, i became the honored hostess of these furry little creatures will come to light later on...]

so, instead of doing something productive in africa (like starting a school or feeding orphans), I'm sitting in my bed, drinking watered-down apple juice and sipping lipton chicken-noodle soup out of an American Embassy mug, and feeding parasites. AND attempting, with my limited amounts of wherewithal, to write another oh-so-brilliant blog. wish me luck.

(judging by the title of this post, there is far too much to tell to keep any of you interested, so i will gracefully highlight and edit my way thru the last month of my life.)


the reason i haven't posted in a while is because, between the dates of October 4th and November 5th, I was home. (Somehow, it seems wrong to write a blog update while in the US. I don't know why. Just one of those things you save for overseas. Like peanut butter and oreos. Don't eat them at home, but if i find them here, i think i'm in heaven.) The lovely Meredith Aulie was married on October 6th, followed by my sister, Eve Annemarie's (aka "Bunny") wedding the following week. Both weddings were breathtaking in their own right. You can't beat an outdoor wedding in October. Meredith's took place at honey rock, where lots of barn dancing and getaway boats were involved, and bunny's was in the field at our house in big rock, beneath a beautiful gray sky and lots of candles.

this is my 5th sibling to marry, so you'd think we'd have the routine down by now. Well, we're not really the sort of family that "gets routines down". So every wedding is another series of "dramatic deja vu"s. Nevertheless, a good time was had by all. I mean, how can you beat a week of the extended Frost clan, the singing von trapps and staying up till 4am playing "who would you marry in your family" games? I know I can't.

i could have done without all the sympathetic looks and the "don't worry, i'm sure you'll find someone" comments. Katelyn Aulie invited me to join the OSNYM (Older Siblings Not Yet Married) club. In our club, we rejoice in our singleness, don't feel sorry for ourselves and utterly reject the notion that just because your younger sibling is married before you, you should feel terrible about your life.

in the last two weeks home, i turned 24 (woo-hoo), spent a lot of time with my beautiful friends and family (whom i appreciate more than ever before) and finished my last 4 tests (!) in Biology 100 at Waubonsee Community College with a smashing 68.5 %. That's 3.5% over what I needed to pass and graduate from Wheaton! I really showed them.


On November 4th, i took off for Cameroon, a medium-sized country (bigger than Rwanda, smaller than Sudan) on the west coast of Africa, for the 3st (you heard me right: 3st... pronounced "THIRST) Annual African Continental Cycling Championships! Our team from Rwanda was competing so Jock Boyer (the team's coach) invited me along. I was the "Technical Advisor" for the team, and I totally fulfilled my roll. I mean, I passed out water bottles and everything... and that required a lot of technical advice ("go, go go! Faster, faster, faster!"). I was awesome

But seriously, Team Rwanda actually was awesome. They got 4th overall (with 16 countries competing) and they only started training in Feb, and before then none of them were trained bikers. it's also a HUGE thing for Rwanda to have something hopeful to put their name back on the map in a positive way. so we were pretty proud of them. and you'll never meet sweeter, more humble athletes (i can say that after spending the week with all the african national teams). no pretense.

(if you have 4 minutes to watch a beautiful video about the team with sweet shots of rwanda, go to

It's basically a music video. you won't be dissapointed, i cry every time... and i don't even like biking :)

I wish you could have seen these guys ride. Some of the best athletes in africa, zero % body fat, trucking up these hills, sweating like pigs, for 3 hours. It was pretty remarkable. And there I was. The out-of-shape white girl, standing the shade and handing out water bottles and jel packs every 12 minutes. :)

"It's a choice"... Jock says.

Cameroon itself was stinky, dirty and i never want to go there again, not ever. I can't really explain it, but something in the air was off. Because I've lived in dirty places before, and it didn't bother me. But this place was dirty on a deeper level. Like corrupt. It made me want to leave from the moment I arrived.* This feeling was aggravated by the fact that we were mostly contained to our hotel. The guys would go out riding and I would walk around the stinky market. But only during the day because at night, I would get attacked, so they told me.

I went to the market one day to take pictures and got yelled at (and i mean told off), at length, by 4 different people for taking photos. In all my years (i'm really old) of taking pictures overseas, that's never happened to me.

one day i was walking in town with my new friends, Daniel and Fre from the Eretrian cycling team (Eretria is a country in east africa, above ethiopia. I'd never heard of it either... and i still can hardly pronounce it). I felt prompted, by the sketchy feeling of the place, to carry all my money in a belt-wallet, under the waistband of my skirt. We stopped to buy some bananas and I dug thru my wallet to find 200 francs. Daniel started giggling and Fre explained, with a grin:

"he is funny at you because you are pulling money from your underpants."

the worst part of cameroon, besides the people yelling at me, being trapped in a ghetto, and keeping money in my underwear, was the endless supply of bad meat sauce...which i couldn't stomach so i ate salad that had been washed with bad water... and the rest is history,

(dysentery enters, Stage Left)

thanks for listening to this somewhat harrowing, somewhat strange tale...


*Mind you, this is simply one person's honest impression of her limited experience of cameroon which is obviously a much larger country. I would hate to do this hurting country further damage by turning everyone completely off to it. It's a dark place, and dark places need light.

ps. if you wish to be further grossed out by the condition in my intestines, or if you just like details, go to