Resharing a blogpost I wrote 3 years ago:
Earlier this week, I got a chance to visit one of my favorite cities, Ottawa, Canada, for the second time. Like many other places I travel to, my favorite thing to do is that I just like to observe what is unique to each place and its people. Howbeit, I try to keep and share only good and funny aspects! My goal writing this is that you will find humor or inspiration or both, in my writing.
Personally, I simply love Ottawa. Since the first time I visited in May 2007, I fell in love with the city. My travel adventure to any place isn’t necessarily as anyone would expect; for example, ancient ruins, historical castles, downtown, coffee shops, shopping centers, restaurants or museums don’t always spark my interest about a place, unlike normal tourists. When you read what I highlight below, you will understand.
When I booked my hotel, although I looked it up on Google maps first, I guess I overlooked the fact that I was actually staying in Quebec, instead of Ontario, where my work office was going to be. I didn’t find it a big deal though, since I was renting a vehicle to get around. I loved the Ottawa River that separates Ottawa and Gatineau; I imagine it’d be beautiful in the summer! At the time of my visit, it was mostly covered by sheets of ice. I also liked the bridge between the 2 cities with double lanes each way, one of them being a HOV lane.
- Ottawa’s winter, just like most of the country, is brutal!
Well, this is a given about Canada, but before you judge me for living in the south for so long, I have had my share of snow and cold. I lived in Rochester, NY which sits right below Lake Ontario, between Toronto and Ottawa, for about 4 years. It didn’t matter if a few feet of snow fell overnight or a monster blizzard descended over Rochester; schools didn’t close and we didn’t get a day off from work due to the inclement weather.
Besides being Canada’s capital, apparently Ottawa is also the 4th largest and the most educated city in Canada. Ottawa is also the 7th coldest capital in the world and apparently, nearly a half of its population is under 35 years of age! Very interesting! Although I really love the city, it is extremely cold there. My few days visiting reminded me how much I definitely do NOT miss the north!
- HOV lanes everywhere
I have not been to a place that is comparatively not large but has many high occupancy vehicle (hov) lanes practically all over the place. Seriously, even in a 2-lane bypass each way, I saw HOV lane signs. The funny part about it though, I noticed that most people don’t adhere to the rules. I don’t know if HOV means something else in Canada, but each time I glanced at cars moving to my left in the HOV lane, there was often a single person in the vehicle.
Also, ironically, I didn’t see any sign for traffic cameras in those lanes, so may be that explains why people just don’t follow those rules? Still, as a visitor, I played it on the safe side, and stayed in regular lanes. I am not as fearless as those people, or, unless HOV means something else up there on our northern border! Normally HOV lanes in the US are mainly in the major highways, not traditional alleys.
- No traffic law enforcement officers in sight
For 3-4 days I spent in Ottawa – Gatineau commuting for 30 minutes one way everyday, I didn’t spot a single LE officer vehicle, traffic or otherwise. Either, police officers there look different from those here in the US and I didn’t see them or simply people don’t violate traffic laws up there or the crime rate is extremely low. Either way, I was surprised.
- Extremely patient drivers
I travel very often but I have never been to a place where everyone drives below the speed limit, literally, almost everyone. For 4 days I was there, I only saw one or 2 people speeding but the rest drove really slow. While I used to speed, several years ago I decide to stop and be responsible about it.
While in Canada, as I juggled between remembering miles versus kilometers on my Canadian rental SUV dashboard, I often noticed that in a single lane road all drivers were trailing way behind me. Then I’d slow down, although I was not really speeding. Also, people don’t honk or tailgate up there. People drove as if it was for fun and not in a rush to be anywhere important.
- Small traffic light panels
Canadians have to have the best sight vision than the rest of the world! The green and yellow light panel holes are awfully small; in some locations though, I noticed that the red lights were mostly normal size. I will let you judge for yourself from the above photo. I think all other countries I have been to, the lights are often the same size but I could be wrong. I found it quite interesting.
- People randomly walking in the rain
When I landed at Ottawa International Airport, the weather was really damp. It was very rainy and very cold. However, what puzzled me was that I would see people, on several occasions, just walking in the rain; some had umbrellas, others didn’t. Some were walking their dogs on the side of the roads, others were just busy going to places. I thought it was quite interesting!
- Food Menu
Of course I would talk about food; albeit, not in a sense you’d expect. I found it hard to understand the restaurant menu at the hotel I stayed at in Gatineau. I didn’t anticipate appetizers to be called entrees (or may be because it’s really entrées in French?), and definitely not the main courses to have sodas on the list etc. Or, I am probably clueless and this is normal? I loved breakfast choices though. I am glad I was only there for couple of days, otherwise, I would have easily put on a few extra pounds.
- French & English
Well, thankfully I could understand both languages but apparently if you live in or travel to any part of the Quebec province, you are absolutely expected to understand or speak French. It reminded of Belgium’s Fleming and Walloon. Although I stayed with a Hilton hotel, an American franchise hotel chain, everyone introduced themselves in French and it seemed like they expected others to do the same. However, if you respond in English, they will switch to English too.
All TV channels, almost all of them, are in French. It took me a while to scroll through many channels to find ABC, CNN or anything that sounded a little American enough :). Also, you should have listened to my Google maps navigation lady trying to pronounce French roads: chemin, rue etc. I laughed so hard! But as soon as I entered Ontario, my lady would gain her momentum!
- Quebec, Je me souviens
Something that caught my attention and made me wonder its meaning was the Quebeckers vehicles license plates: the top said Quebec, obviously, but the bottom had the phrase “je me souviens” which means “I remember or I do not forget“.
It turns out that this is the official motto for the province of Quebec. Although its full significance isn’t known according to articles, but it can be paraphrased to past political memories (perhaps between French and English), ancient lineage and traditions, which is beyond the scope of my article’s intention. I was just curious when I saw that on all cars on the upper side of the Ottawa River.
One other thing I noticed a lot is that Canadians are openly vocal about their views of the current American politics. I am especially very uncomfortable expressing about my political opinions anywhere, live alone with strangers, and in another country.
In the overall, I simply love the people there especially that I got to stay a few days and drove around this time. The city is beautiful, even during a bitter cold winter, people are very polite, strangers will go above and beyond to make you feel welcome, with great intention. At the hotel, restaurant, work, everyone was extremely nice to me. I joked to my friends that I was thinking of staying there for good :). I hope to visit in the summer though!
Another year is gone! I don’t know about you but I feel like 2016 just flew by. While this year has generally been a great year for me and my family, it has also been my busiest as far as I can remember. In addition to my regular job and non profit work, I have also had a decent amount of travel, both in the US and outside the US. It has been a full plate!
As we bid 2016 adieu tonight, I would like to take this moment to express my gratitude:
- First and foremost, to God who is my Strength, Hope, Counselor, Provider, my reason to rejoice. He Has a new mercy for me everyday and for that I am forever in awe of Him!
- I am indebted to an incredible group of people who have been walking with me & caring for a cause very close to my heart, Rising Above the Storms. A few individuals who worked tirelessly around the clock, juggling their busy lives and dedicating their time, talent and finances to make our First Annual Gala a success! I can’t thank them enough.
- Many people who believe in me, my personal story of hope and my life’s dream to change one life at a time, through sharing a message of hope, empowering through education and advocating for orphans. I am especially thankful to my Cisco community, my immediate team that organized an event to raise money for RAS, many individual Cisco employees who donated, Cisco that matches donations, every single donor (small or big) who is contributing to making our dream coming true! I am forever humbled!
- I am very excited about our very first partnership with a non profit (Amahoro Builders Ministry or ABM) locally based in Rwanda and set to launch on Friday, January 6, 2017 in Kigali. Our main focus there will be to care for street children by listening to their voices and needs, helping them reintegrate in the Rwandan community and guiding them to a future filled with hope. ABM is a non profit organization that places focus on the well being of the family, youth and early childhood development in Rwanda. Their main office is in the Eastern Province.
- My friends, too many to mention here, who are always there for me, even when I am not as available for them. I am very thankful to know the greatest individuals!
- My adopted family in NY and relatives who have given me another chance to have a family that truly cares about my well being. My adopted Mom who has been the greatest supporter of my hopes and dreams, even when my vision seemed impossible.
- Last but not least, my siblings who are my greatest boast in the Lord, my source of inspiration, my best friends. I cannot imagine my life without them. In addition to my brother and his beautiful wife, last year our lives have been blessed with a little bundle of joy, my nephew (I also call him my grandson) that I love beyond imagination. I know his real grandparents would have loved him as much as I do and more.
I look forward to 2017 with great anticipation! Happy New Year to you and all your loved ones! God bless you!
It has been a busy few months, or year for that matter. What a journey! Since January of this year, I have traveled to more than 20 US states (many of them first time), dozens of cities, and three European countries (mostly for business), as well as working 50-80 hours a week on average for my full-time job. If that was not enough, add planning, thinking, worrying, coordinating, and struggling to keep up with what it takes to coordinate our very first annual gala, on top of being the founder of a startup nonprofit.
Let me first start telling you a little bit about me: I am a female engineer; I speak English as a third language. Unlike most women I know, I don’t like cooking or shopping. I am a picky eater, my adventurous skills are doubtful. I am terrified by asking people for money, even if its sole purpose is to help orphans out of hopelessness and enable them to dream.
I am not eloquent by any means; I am a nervous wreck before speaking to a large audience. I don’t know how to talk to people I just met. A group of strangers terrifies me, even if they are all friendly. I grew up in a third world country and moved here later in life, but certain aspects of the American culture still puzzle me a decade later!
I dislike conflicts; I don’t like it when someone is mad at me! I can’t keep up when humor revolves around the art of slangs, cursing or sarcasm. I have never met anyone in the same situation as me: running a nonprofit with another full time, technical job. Oh, and I have zero talent!
Well by this time, if you are still reading this, you are wondering, “Why is she saying all this?” I have a point, I promise! Now, if you can tie it back to everything I lack or my busy life, you may wonder why anyone like this would want to start a nonprofit. Well, that makes two of us. I have a secret though! This one may make you think over everything that makes you doubt yourself.
I lost my parents at the age 13. Though I was absolutely alone and left to fend off myself at that young age, I encountered someone who became my hope in trials, my refuge in time of trouble, my comfort in sorrow, my counselor in hopelessness, my provision when no one cared, a father to the orphan, a friend in need. That is Jesus, my Savior and King, my God!
You see, all these things I lack, and many more I didn’t want to bore you with, He’s taken upon Himself. Before God, I am warrior, victorious, loved, a daughter of the Most High. I am able to do everything through Jesus who strengthens me. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what keeps me pressing on in spite of my lack of experience in nonprofit management and many other things in life.
So, circling back to my nonprofit: YES, it was very stressful to combine my schedule and responsibilities as I got pulled in many directions. It still is and I often wonder what I got myself into. However, a constant reminder as I navigated a busy schedule this year has been a reassuring voice telling me to be still and know that God will be glorified as David quoted in Psalm 46:10 NKJV.
This is what kept me calm even when people and promises fell through and schedules didn’t align with our planning needs and requirements. After all, this vision is God’s work; I don’t really need to worry, as long as He is on my side. Obviously, He doesn’t need my skills or experience. All He wants is my obedience!
I have been fortunate enough to understand my life calling, the reason God spared my life from the machetes and bullets of 1994 in Rwanda. I may not accomplish much in this life, but as God has been to me, so I will be to others. Today, I can afford anything I need, and my siblings feel the same way. God has been everything we ever need, up to this very minute as I type this. My prayer and hope is to be God’s hands and feet through loving and being a blessing for those who have not been as fortunate.
Matthew 25:34-36 (NKJV) gives me a glimpse of how things will look on the judgement day, when God will impartially judge all the nations. This long chapter is wrapped in the true meaning of LOVE. Also, Paul said it well: although all these three are excellent: faith, hope and love, but the greatest of them is LOVE.
Through God’s LOVE that spoke the earth into existence, I hope to spend the rest of my life striving to learn and practice what it means to love everyone unconditionally regardless of who they are or their life choices: race, religion, color, sex, age, national origin or ancestry etc.
I am really thankful that our first annual gala was a success, and we are currently almost halfway to our final goal in terms of raising funds for our first learning center in Rwanda to benefit street children and at-risk-youth. God has been great to me, and blessed me with a great team of volunteers who are very passionate about my vision and cause.
Will you join forces with me to share this hope, advocate for orphans, and empower the most vulnerable children through education? I am eternally thankful that the Lord would entrust me with this great mission! I still cannot believe that He picked ME!! Rising Above the Storms (RAS) is not a work I feel burdened to do, it is simply my life story, and a soul that has been truly satisfied & touched by God’s Mercy!
Fortunately, my black cab driver from the London Heathrow Airport was extremely friendly. After a long red-eye flight into Heathrow from RDU, NC, I couldn’t have asked for a better ride. Although I was very exhausted and sleepy, since I was up the entire flight (we landed around (5am London, 1am EST, my bed time), my brain was surely awakened by the beauty that this city is!The cab driver of 40+ years of experience under his belt, kindly explained everything from the airport to my hotel, without even being asked. He gave me tips on must see places and where to be careful. As we crossed the River Thames bridge to my hotel, he made it clear that it’s pronounced like “tems”. Oh how I love the British accent. Although later I was told that Britons will hide their annoyance behind a pleasant smile, I personally found them to be extremely kind. During my 8 day-stay there, there was not a single person who wasn’t extra nice to me! “Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace encompasses colorful spectacle and British pageantry. The ceremony lasts about 45 minutes and usually takes place daily at 11:30 from April until the end of July and on alternate days for the rest of the year, weather permitting. ” ~ Royal Collection.
I must say though that people there aren’t necessarily good at giving directions: when you ask someone where the bus or metro station is, they will simply point that it’s over there, when there’s no such a thing in sight. I found that quite interesting. I got to ride the London tube once, otherwise I mostly took taxi cabs. While in Europe, I also got to visit Belgium and the Netherlands. My last time on this continent was in 2012. Remember the post “Tour D’Europe, In My Own Words!”?
Now the fun part of my experience there besides the fact that it was bitter cold and windy the whole time I was in London, was food. What’s up with arugula on every meal? The first time my meal arrived I wondered if it was a mistake; I definitely remembered my order at this Italian restaurant pretty well. Also, while in London, if you order chicken, make sure you specify that you want chicken breast. Otherwise, chicken legs/thighs will land on your plate. When I ordered the chicken pasta meal, at an Italian restaurant, I was shocked when they brought this:I undoubtedly signaled the waiter that he may have brought the wrong order. To my shock, he confirmed my fear. I may not know much about different cuisines, but this doesn’t look like chicken pasta to me. Not only that there was bread in lieu of pasta, the chicken didn’t taste good at all :(. If you know me very well, you know that I can eat pretty much anything, right? Kidding aside, even in a place like London, it was not easy for me to venture outside my hotel and find food that I like :(. My taste in meals is a real challenge for a frequent traveler like myself. The good thing is that at least I now know restaurants to go to and meals to order during my travels. Salmon is my favorite fish.
When I searched for seafood places near the London Bridge and the Borough Market, I was excited to find the Wright Brothers Borough, a seafood restaurant. It was only minutes from my hotel. When I got there, not only that there was no salmon to save a life there, they didn’t have fish. I am not kidding! Luckily, I found Black and Blue Steakhouse right across from them, and I finally enjoyed a normal American looking meal there.
- A playground for grown-ups 😀
London has other many unique things, such as this one here in the picture! Those people are not children I promise.I loved London and its people so much. I hope to go back when it’s warm and sunny.
Now, moving across the water south east to Belgium. Judging from the next picture, I am pretty sure that this country may never have an issue with obesity, in my opinion. After a long day visiting the Netherlands, I was very hungry when I arrived back to my hotel room in Brussels. I was too starved to wait for room service, so I immediately headed down to the hotel restaurant, Bien Belge.
Fish of course is always my first choice and lucky for me, they had salmon on the menu in French and English. I don’t always eat large portions, but when the waiter brought my dinner, it made me wonder if they thought that I needed to lose a few pounds ;). I will let you judge for yourself, from the next picture. Salmon is in there somewhere 🙂
Another observation while in Europe was about bedding. This sounds like an odd one, but please bear with me. I grew up in Rwanda, where a normal bed has one fitted and one flat sheet, or 2 flat sheets, and a comforter on top of that. This is the same in the United States. Europe is different apparently. You only have a fitted sheet and a comforter. You should have seen the look on their faces, every time I asked the hotel staff for a second flat sheet.
Of course the sweet housekeeping ladies spoke practically no English, so the front desk was the main contact. The only problem, every morning when the housekeeping came through, my flat sheet was obviously gone, understandably. Then it’d be the same thing over again in the evening. I just don’t understand how people use the comforter only. I am going to spare my imagination from wondering if they wash the comforters every time a guest leaves!!
- Egg mystery
First, I must say that the European hotels breakfast is nothing similar to what I often see here in the United States, even in similar hotel brands. In the US, many hotels don’t offer complementary breakfast to their guests; and some that do, choices are limited. Take it from someone who has had her share of traveling, although I don’t always have time to eat breakfast before work.
In European hotels, not only that breakfast is absolutely complementary, they have no shortage in breakfast item choices. That was my observation in all European countries I have been to so far. I may be biased toward the Hilton hotel chains I stay at, but I can’t imagine that it’d be different from other hotel brands.Now, while in Brussels, one morning after breakfast, I grabbed a snack for later. One of the few items I took was an egg. I was pretty sure that it was a hard boiled egg that I was going to snack on later. Well, “later” came around, and with excitement, I cracked the egg, only to be surprised with a mess everywhere on my room desk. I was horrified. The egg was raw; I will spare you the rest! I guess I can’t tell the difference between a hard boiled and a raw egg, but I think that I simply did not pay too much attention.
One thing I remember though is that in the morning when I was at the restaurant, there was no chef, I am positive, to make omelets for guests on spot, or hard boiled eggs for that matter. I spent 3 nights at this hotel, and grabbed breakfast every morning. What raw eggs were doing next to bread, fruits and other breakfast items is beyond me. I still haven’t found an answer to what Belgians do with raw eggs on the go 😀In addition to Amsterdam, I also visited Haarlem, in the Netherlands. I plan to write about my trip specifically to Haarlem in another post. I am so thankful to my friends in Brussels who took me to Amsterdam and Haarlem. It made my trip easier rather than having to figure things out on my own, especially that apparently Amsterdam is known for drugs and prostitution, and I was certainly there for neither!
While in Haarlem, it was obvious that it’s not a diverse town, whatsoever. I have never laughed so hard than when one of my friends (all from Rwanda) made a joke. She said that if our other friend lowered his hat and held it upward, that everyone around us would have started putting Euro coins in there. Not sure if poor people there are mainly black but the town is exclusively white for sure. The joke made my day because I laughed so hard!!
Needless to say, it was an amazing experience and getting to connect with my friends in all these places made it even more enjoyable. I hope that my next visit to Europe will be to Germany and Poland at minimum. Can’t wait!!
When I was growing up, just like most of Rwandans then, for some reasons, I thought that Rwanda was the biggest country ever. It goes way back in history. “Rwanda” comes from “Kwanda“, which means “getting larger or expanding“. After I moved to the United States, I of course abandoned the idea. Rwanda is nearly the size of the state of Massachusetts.
Also, I am still convinced that everyone in Rwanda believed in God when I was growing up. Many songs and expressions in Kinyarwanda simply reflected “the God of Rwanda” that spent the day in other countries but definitely came home to Rwanda every night. In fact, most last names in Rwanda carried “God” or “Imana” in it. For instance, my last name Imaniraguha, means, “God gives you”, and many many others.
Unfortunately, Rwandan artists also later wrote that God didn’t come to Rwanda on April 7th, 1994. That Thursday morning (ironically this year 2016 exactly matches days of 1994) marked the beginning of an ethnic cleansing, the 1994 genocide against the minority Tutsi group (15% of the population of about 7 millions then).
Personally, as I have written in many posts, although the genocide lasted about 100 days, April is a unique month in mine and my 3 surviving siblings’ lives. By Sunday April 24th, 1994, I had already lost my parents and two of my siblings. One mourning song especially conveys the degree of my grief, my prayer, my hope. It’s called “Hear Me God, please Hear Me, God of Rwanda“. Click here to take a listen: Nyumva Mana (Hear me God) by Suzanne Nyiranyamibwa.
Unfortunately it’s in Kinyarwanda; however, below is my attempt to transcript the lyrics in English. Although the song is possibly nearly 2 decades old, it has been my favorite for so many reasons!
♪♫Hear me God, Hear me God, Please Hear me, God of Rwanda.
Keep me from having rancor and rid me of a heart of vengeance. Let Justice roll, and please end oppression in our country.
Hear me God (x2)!
Although many years come to pass, my heart is still stricken with grief! I look everywhere and my sight has no end. And when I call out for someone, echoes answer me, instead!
Hear me God (x2)!
My father! I didn’t bury him! My Mother! I didn’t see her on a deathbed! Many relatives, children and true friends, were killed without a crime and I was left all alone!
Hear me God!
One who could be on my side was taken away in this tsunami, too. They robbed me of love and wrapped me in sorrow. I escaped without hope as the enemy watched!
Hear me God!
Your chosen ones were murdered because of how you created them. Please seat them near you in Your Palace of Life, relieve them of pain and rest them in peace!
Hear me God!
Lord of Mercy, hear me I am begging You. Please come quickly, win over the enemy and protect me with Your Shield. Bless Rwanda with great things and get rid of all bitterness among us!
Hear me God, Please Hear me, God of Rwanda.
Keep me from having rancor and rid me of a heart of vengeance. Let Justice roll, and please end oppression in our country!
Hear me God (x4). Please Hear me, God of Rwanda ♪♫
“But those who wait on the Lord, shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31
“My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26
♥If tears could build a stairway,
and memories a lane.
I would walk right up to Heaven
and bring you back again.♥
“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”~ Revelations 21:4