Time with Justin

Justin has said to me many times that he thought it would take about 1 month for me to settle in and be ready to engage with him and feel comfortable here in Rwanda and he was right. It has taken me about that long to feel awake, settled, comfortable and ready to begin working with him. He is a very hard worker and often doesn’t come home until 9 or 10pm and he is long gone before I even wake up in the morning. I have to be honest and say that it seems bit daunting to think that he wants me to come and help him. What can I do? What does he need? What do the people need? And am I the one who needs to be here helping him? Well, I came all the way here to do that so it appears so!

Yesterday he picked me up at 8:30am and we, along with his brother went to visit one of the cooperatives that the World Dancers didn’t get to meet due to our little itinerary mix up! It was in the city limits but it was way out in the rural areas that felt more like the villages we had visited earlier with the group. It was in a place called Bumbugo.


When we arrived there were people out in the field digging up dirt for a new crop of beans. They got a good laugh out of me taking a ho and helping out! These people work hard but what I noticed was that they also take breaks when they need it. It didn’t have the same feel as working in North America, it was not rushed but still very intense and felt balanced. There was a focus as well but still gentle chit chat and laughter.




Justin informed me that these were victims of AIDS that had come together to live and that 98% of the members were positive for the virus. Their faces would not tell you that they were victims as they offered big smiles and look right into your heart with their deep brown eyes. I have been told many times that Rwandan people hide their pain with big bright smiles.


(ok so they are not smiling in this photo because they were listening to Justin speak!)

It was nice to be back in the field with Justin and I was reminded of my time with the group and how powerful it was. It was clear that Justin has those experiences all the time and he says this is his mission and he does it because he is meant to do it. It was a blessing that he Met Betsy Kain from Goats For Life and now Janet from World Dance as he is rewarded with a paycheck, something he did without for a long time and I know he would do again if it came to that. His heart is in this work and he loves the people of his country very much. He is a wonderful provider for his large family and has been integral in making this journey of mine what it is so far. I am very grateful for him and his work.


(Offering from their hearts!)


(Justin receiving his gifts!)

We were presented with gifts, a large bunch of cooking bananas, a pot of beans and the chicken I spoke of earlier. It was so wonderful to see the offering coming from these people who have not much to give and yet they give so generously. It is this trust and love that I am looking to embody in my own life and it is through seeing real life examples of how I aspire to be that I can learn to do the same. It gives me the courage to give when I have very little as well. It also reminds me that unlike these people I now have my health back, I have many opportunities and I have support.

As I continue on my journey in life I see the potential being revealed and a new found gratitude for things I took for granted in my life. I have a new appreciation for the ways in which I can live, eat, learn, dress, travel, what I can own, and that I have the choice. Why am I choosing the route of self imposed poverty when I have so many things at my finger tips? I need to see what I had in a new light in order to fully appreciate it for what it was. I spent a lot of my life rejecting things that my society and culture offered me and now I can see how lucky I am, but it was because I did the work to climb the mountain and get a glimpse of what was on the other side. I am now standing at the top with a clear view of both sides and as I begin the decent I can choose which way feels right for me. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to view my life so differently and clearly. Now I feel like I really have choice, something which a lot of people in Rwanda don’t feel they have. I am very lucky and I will not waste it.

Chasing a Dream or a Reality?

Even a beautiful, clear blue stream has rocks that cause the water to make detours and in that moment change the direction of its course. The water needs these rocks as its foundation, the very place in which is rests, without the rocks there would be no stream.

As I began to feel the flow of my life taking course here in Rwanda it makes perfect sense that a rock would come and cause me to take a different view of where I am going. Is it really the direction I am wanting to go and is it in line with what I feel is really who I want to be? Can I trust that I will be supported?

Learning to accept things from people has been a big part of my process and yet I know there must always be balance. What does that mean? In every situation it is different, no two situations are balanced in the same way. I also know that life itself is a constant search for balance and so it may not feel even everyday, in every situation but when we look back at our life we can see if there was balance or not. It is through the looking back that I can learn what makes my life feel balanced for me. I know what it feels like to live in that space because of the experiences that were not. I learn what balance feels like in my body. I have been feeling off balance for about 3-4 weeks now.

It was through my time at the Ashram and the study of Yoga that I realized how much I associated money with self worth, and how success, accomplishments and material possessions were taught as a symbol of my worth. I watched as I held tightly onto my position as a Nurse in a way to feel secure and like I had something to say to people who asked me what I did, a way to give me credibility and make me worthy in their eyes. It took over a year for me finally quit my position that I had been on sick leave from for more time than I had actually worked at it. It felt very unsettling to not have a career or a job but I knew it was part of the process and that it needed to be done. I stayed at the Ashram for nearly 2 years in total and for most of that time I did full time Karma Yoga, which literally means “Yoga of Action”. At the Ashram this can be anything from cleaning toilets, renovating a building, making pickles, weeding, polishing jewelry, washing cars – you name it, it is Karma Yoga! So even though I was not working as a professional anymore I was working and in some ways much harder than I had ever worked before and it was through this that I began to see my relationship to myself and to money change.

A typical day looked like this:

6:50 – 7:50 AM Hatha Yoga

8AM Breakfast

8:30 -12:30 Karma Yoga

12:30 – 1:30 Lunch

1:30 – 3:30pm Karma Yoga from

3:30-4pm Reflection

4-5:30pm Karma Yoga

6pm Dinner

8pm  Satsang


This is what is expected of you as soon as you arrive, it happens 6 days a week and you have one day for self-reflection. Once you do the trainings and become a teacher or extend your stay you can add a whole lot more responsibility to this list including teaching classes, making breakfast, giving Satsang talks, helping ensure the integrity of the teachings, being a liaison for new guests, being a contact person for Karma Yogi’s and the list goes on. All the while practicing awareness of your own speech, thoughts, actions and having ample opportunity for conflict and resolution!


What this experience offered me was a way to see that money is not the most important thing in the world and it was not what made me a good person or made me worthy of respect or of receiving good things in my life. My life was richer than I had ever experienced before and I had relatively nothing left from my life before. I learned to live with what I had and to trust that all I ever needed was already with me or would come to me. Being a part of a community and knowing that I was a part of ensuring something stayed alive was a lesson that will stay with me always and gave me a new perspective on how I want to live life. If we want to change we need to be supported, we need each other, everything needs everything else – we are not separate from one another. The teachings of Swami Radha are alive and thriving because of the teachers who keep them going. The Ashram is evidence enough for me that real change on a global level is possible if we are willing to do the work individually and have a common goal to keep us united as a community.

After having stripped away all that I knew of myself in terms of who I was out in the “Real World”, you know the one where money is a God and God is something outside of ourselves, it came time to reenter as a completely different person, at least in terms of how I thought about being a human in this material world. It has been over a year since I left my spiritual home and I have had experiences with living and making money in new ways, which have filled me with hope and inspiration for the life I know I want and can live. I have been supported by many generous people offering me different ways of continuing my journey such as house sitting, pet sitting, even free room and board (Thank you Aaron!) and the Ashram is always there for me as a kind of safe haven to retreat to in times of need.

My goal is not to not have a job or to not support myself, almost the opposite really, because I know that I thrive when I have responsibility but it’s a very different approach when I am following my heart and trusting that I will be given what I need (work, money, bed, food.. etc). I apply for jobs and don’t get them – that’s a sign to try something else. I looking into volunteering and it opens up right away – that’s a sign. I go to the pool and someone asks about learning Yoga – that’s a sign! I am not in control of this path but it is my job to navigate through it in a way that feels right to me and to ensure that I don’t cross that very, very fine line between selfless and selfish, which of course I do because I am not perfect but I am always willing to see it and make the needed adjustments, even though it feels like a wrecking ball hit me in the gut to know that I have done something that is not in line with what I know is right, but its these learnings that help me grow. I can always go back, I can always change, I can always make another choice – that is the gift of life!

Now here I am in Africa, a place where there is little money, everyone assumes that I have money because I am white and I don’t. I do have capabilities and education but so do the people here. There are 4 people living in the house beside me with University degrees and even Masters Degrees with no jobs. It does not feel right, at all, to take a job that there are many qualified persons from Rwanda to fill. It does feel right to be here and to be with Justin, helping him and deepening my connection to World Dance. It also feels right to teach yoga, from which all monies go back to the Ashram as it runs off of donated monies as well. It does feel right to put on a Thriller event here in Rwanda from which all monies raised goes to charity. Can I do what I did just before coming to Africa and trust that if I spend all the money I do have I will be supported in ways that will allow me to survive and continue this journey? I did just that in Nelson, BC and I still got to Africa so that gives me strength to trust that I can do it again. Being in a very different culture offers me a lot to process though and makes me see my intentions very differently.

Am I just being stubborn, lazy or making excuses for myself?  Maybe, at times it feels that way. This is not any easy ride and although a lot of people comment on it being such a great way to life, it is undoubtably the most frightening and challenging journey I have ever been on. I wish I had millions of dollars so that I could repay the people who have helped me get this far, give every child here a home and an education, buy my best friend a house and help her go to school, help everyone in need but money is not the answer to my problems or anyone else’s really, at least not in the long term. Yes, it can change things in the moment. Yes, it plays a vital role in our society right now but something needs to change and that change begins and ends with our selves. But how do I live this when I am in a country where no one really has money? Who am I to come here and expect Rwanda to support me when it cannot support the people that were born here? Do I even have the right to be here asking this of Rwanda? Is this naive? Is this arrogant? Is this selfish? Yes, on some level it sure is. But my heart so strongly directed me here – why? How much can I accept and how much do I give? How can I help myself follow my heart and survive a few more months here and not depend on others? What is it that I am not hearing yet?

For me its not about having the skills to do what I feel compelled to do with this life, it about finding the confidence and the knowing that I am worthy of living life in the way I was meant to by using these skills. It takes time to really, deeply believe in yourself if you have been told the complete opposite most of your life. No one can make me believe in myself, I have to do the work to embody it and until then I am destined to repeat the same patterns that hold me back. Rwanda is a way for me to build on the foundation of strength that I have been creating within myself and take it to a level where I can go and live my dreams. It is one step along the rocky river bottom and it is integral to who I am becoming. So I will continue to trust and walk straight into the fire because the ash that I leave behind is a symbol of heart’s passion to be the change I want to see in the world. Imagine a world where everyone lives their hearts desire! I believe its possible. Can you?

Face Value

It’s as though every moment there is something happening that is worth writing about and the slight tendonitis in my right hand is testament to that!

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The other day I walked into the house and found about 8 people gathered around the dinner table. It was wonderful to see so many familiar faces and to be greeted by some of my new nicknames including: Coromandi and Casava! There was something unusual about this meal though and I couldn’t put my finger on it until I sat down next to Justin’s brother, Frederic. I noticed Justin knawing on something as well as his sister-in-law, Celine and when I looked closer I saw …….a furry nose! Yes, a nose! It was a sheep skull that they were eating on and from. They offered me a piece of brain and I reached in and took a small piece with my fingers. They all watched as I talked myself into putting it into my mouth and when I did they were all very excited. This is a delicacy here and Justin told me about how much people covet it. He was lucky to have found a sheep being butchered that day in a field.

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As far as taste goes, it was not bad, I would even call it – buttery! But I could not get the words “Its a Brain!” out of my head. I feel like I couldn’t really enjoy the taste of it because of these words repeating themselves over and over in my mind. I watched as the group passed this head around and ripped off pieces, sucked on it, gnawed on it, broke it open for more deliciousness that lay inside the bones. Justin turned to me and said, “This is very good for you!” Frederic opened the lid of another pot and inside was the intestines that had been boiled. It was such an unusual experience for me in some ways and in others not. I grew up in a hunting family and so animals being killed and dissected by curious children like myself was not uncommon but this felt different. I could feel judgment of some kind creeping around in the back of my mind. What was it?
It felt like my moral compass was chiming in and saying “This isn’t right.” I am not sure what about it wasn’t right, I mean eating meat is eating an animal so why is eating a brain any different than eating a leg? Would it be better to just toss the brain away and not use it at all? No. In Aboriginal culture they use the brain as part of a hide tanning process for leather making and in many cultures, such as this one, it is a delicacy to eat. So what was it really that was making me tense?
It was the rawness of it, the animalistic nature of it that upset me on some level, for some reason. Maybe because it was the face, the actual face, of another creature that was being ripped open and eaten. I don’t really understand it fully but the word consciousness keeps coming to mind. In some way I see how being connected to the earth and to being more in tune with nature and our primitive ways is very beautiful especially while living here in this country. I also see how the more “civilized” we are the more opportunity for disconnection from the earth and our part in the cycle of life there is. Even in writing this I do not feel like I can completely express what I mean to say, maybe because I don’t fully understand what I am feeling. I have no bias towards eating animals or not, and I can argue either side, but somehow while I am here and in this moment I am aware that there are many other options for survival and I don’t see any of those options begin offered readily.

Maybe its just because I have been working on my own connection to food and my body and at one point in the healing journey was practicing being Vegan, which after leaving the Ashram where I had a chef cooking for me, it became very difficult and was very expensive to keep up. Our society does not support people eating in alternative ways the way it supports meat, dairy and processed foods which makes it very challenging at times to make the choices I really want to make and live on a budget.
The reason I was exploring this way of eating had to do with energy, specifically the energy that I put into my body. The treatment of the animals has an impact on the energy that they will carry in their bodies, just like I know my body carries energy from my experiences. So if I want my body to feel good and carry positive energy then I need to feed it positive energy. It all goes hand in hand with eating vegetables that are organic, treated with care and grown in a balanced environment with healthy soil – we are what we eat after all! It is a new level of awareness that I was becoming in tune with and carry with me even as I eat Sheep Brains!
So yesterday when Justin and I were presented with a gift of a beautiful rooster from one of the cooperatives and I watched as it’s legs were tied and flopped into the back of a truck and I knew we were going to be eating it for dinner I made sure, in my own way, to give thanks to the rooster for giving its life in order to keep ours going. I feel that deep down its not the eating of the meat, the fish or brains that makes my brain say things like “This isn’t right!” it’s the disconnect between what and why we are putting things into our bodies and for me this ties into what we then allow to feed our minds and our spirits.


As my dear friend Ananda says in her book, “Divine Jokes and Invisible Realities”, she eats solely for consciousness. So I continue to practice Gratitude for all that I am given and for the opportunity to further understand and know myself.

Life in Bloom

Here I am about one week later feeling totally in the groove. Life has started to take shape for me in Kigali and I am ready to ride the wave. I have made my first poster for Thrill The World practices and will begin teaching next week – where? Where else…..the pool that I have been frequenting since I arrived! They are very happy to have me help not only with teaching swimming lessons but also to use to gym space ( a cement room with a ping pong table and some weird work out equipment that looks old and expensive in its day) for the bargain of 1000RFW, which is about $1.50 an hour and if no one show I don’t pay. I have it posted on the popular web page here called Living in Kigali and am feeling the momentum already.


(Dancing with World Dance Santa Barbara in Los Olivos, CA (5 mins from Neverland Ranch!  October 28th, 2012. World Dance raised over $11,000 for their charity that year with this event! Proof that amazing things happen through dance!)


(Me and Janet, the woman who started World Dance Santa Barbara and unknowingly created something that would allow me to follow my heart to Rwanda! Thank you Janet, I love you!)


(Le Sanitas front entrance, where my first Thriller practice will take place next weekend and where I hang out and be myself while life unfolds all around me!)

I was in the Sauna the other day, just sitting in the dark, hot space when I voice in the dark says ” I see you here often. Are you doing Yoga?” It was a local man named Chris who turned out to be very interested in learning more about Yoga and offered to connect me with a place where locals go to workout. He was very curious and while we talked he had many questions to which I gave the common Ashram response of asking a question like “What do you feel/think?”. I remember initially when being presented with this kind of response to a direct question I felt frustrated and unheard but I soon figured out that it was the teachers way of getting me to think, feel and choose what was right for me. This is the place from which I learned to understand that my body really knows what I needed to be healthy. He responded well to it and soon was sitting cross legged with his hands resting gently on his knees, eyes closed and breathing in the fresh Eucalyptus leave steam. It was in this moment that I again realized how important it is for me to teach what I have learned and that Yoga is one of the reasons I am here. I have made connections with 3 others places for teaching Yoga and have a good feeling about teaching as it really helps bring me back to a place of offering that helps me connect to it in my own life even more. It is a gift and an honor to be a teacher of the unique teachings of Yasodhara Ashram and I am also honored to now be able to share them on the other side of the world!


(My first workshop: 10 days of Yoga. This group, this workshop, this place all helped me to save my life and I never went back to life as I knew it. Gratitude overflows from my heart for this experience. In case it’s hard to tell, that is me in the light purple dress with long curly hair!)

I began my daily routine this week which includes some form of Yoga (Dream Yoga, Mantra and Chanting, Divine Light Invocations, Breathing, or Hatha), any form I feel and for any amount of time that feels right for me in that moment. If there is one thing I know about myself it’s that I like structure but when things are too structured I tend to not want to do it, so I gave myself lots of flexibility within the structure. It was like I was given the sweetest treat the first morning that I got myself motivated to chant mantra and I was brought back to that place within myself that I long to be. One of those moments when I feel: “why do I not give myself this gift every day?” It like a refresh button was clicked and I was immediately back in the groove. I felt lighter and more alive than I have since arriving and since  then I have seen a total 360 turn around in my mood, attitude and ability to see the positive. When I make choices for myself that come from a place of listening to what my body, mind and heart need to be happy and healthy I feel so much better. I am acting from a place of higher consciousness and I can feel the effects all day long.


(Me as Summer Kitchen Manager in Yasodhara Ashram in the summer of 2011! Yes, that is MJ on my shirt and if you look closely he has a silence badge over his mouth! A very challenging practice but it doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with it!)

In keeping goal of writing a book and  the very likely idea of me returning to Canada in November, I also made a connection with a newspaper in my home town of The Pas, MB, Canada and will be starting to write my own column while I am here in Kigali very soon!  I grew up in a small town in a remote, Northern area of Manitoba and was often very frustrated that it had not much to offer me in terms of the things I was interested in doing in my life. I now see how much I have to offer to the people of this community and how my life experiences and learning can be shared and given back in many different ways and places, even places I thought I would never consider returning to. But, there is healing there for me as well and it feels very right, especially since my best friend (or Be-Fri, as I like to call her!) lives there now and I want nothing more than to create a life that has her in it on a daily basis! Life is full of opportunities and for me it is about finding the courage to reach out and make them happen – that is what Rwanda is doing for me, showing me my own power and strength to do the things I want with my life. One step at a time!

“Julia Child wasn’t always “Julia Child”!   Quote from the movie:  Julie and Julia, with one of my favorite female actors Meryl Streep!


(Carrie (my Be-Fri since grade 8) and I during my visit to The Pas, August 2012. I hadn’t been there in nearly 10 years but she got me there and was I pleasantly surprised! I felt so much love and support that I stayed for a month! Thank you Carrie for all the love and support you give to me, you are beautiful inside and out. I love you!)

So here I am now with a date for teaching Thriller, a plan for teaching Yoga, a personal traditional dance and language teacher, a way to give back to the country I am honored to be in, a column in a newpaper and my life went from feeling empty and confused to directed and moving forward so quickly that I need date book to organize it all! Now is the challenge of finding the balance within it all. It is all a wonderful learning game and I know there will be mistakes along the way but I am so happy to be here in this moment feeling the wave of bliss that has washed over my life this week!

Adventures in Healing!

What is it that makes me so confident that what I am doing and what I have done over these last 3 years or so is what I am meant to be doing to heal myself? Is it worth all that I have given up, given away or even pushed out of my life? How do I know and can I ever really know for sure?

What I do know is that I am healthy and am working towards being even more healthy in all areas of my life. I know that I am alive because of the changes, decisions and challenges that I have faced and that a life without rough spots is not the life I want to live. I know that there are others in the world who have faced much more challenging and hard decisions and are doing much “bigger” things in the world and but I know my story is just as relevant to tell as theirs is.  I know that when I decided to start living from my heart and inner truth it created tension within the major relationships in my life but that it was that which helped me see my own worth through creating my own community of love and support the way I needed it. I have seen the power of friendship and that family doesn’t have to mean blood. I have seen the support unfold before my eyes to keep me going on this journey and it is because I have cracked open the self-love jar that I am able to allow it into my life. There is no doubt in my mind or heart that I am on the right path and that I will be supported in this journey for the rest of my life.

It is through real life experience that I am able to witness my growth first hand and it is in these moments that I am further shown proof that what I am doing is right for me. A big part of my healing right now has to do with men and speaking up for myself. I have a history of abuse in various ways, at varying degrees with various types of relationships and people (men and woman). Through my process of healing I discovered that because of past experiences I learned to live in a constant state of “Fight or Flight” which caused me to respond inappropriately to actual danger and as well as non-dangerous situations. One example of this in my mid 20’s was an incident in which I was being strangled by a patient on an evening shift one night and instead of doing what I could to get away I froze and thought only of how I didn’t want to hurt the man that was doing the act. Then around that time I began to live in quite a bit of fear and would yell and swear at anyone who made me feel remotely vulnerable, including the cashiers at the Grocery store. I slowly became a very mean, suspicious and fearful person all because I felt out of control of my emotions, had been hurt and had not received proper help to deal with this and other events. My body was just trying to protect me and this had major impacts on my physical health as well as mental. It also lead me to be the my own worst enemy as I was acting in a way that made me very vulnerable to things that were actually harmful to me.

So, how does this relate to me being in Rwanda…….well, I am offered so many opportunities to put into practice the inner strength I have developed and to see where I have grown and where I need to put more energy. Four examples in the last 2 days have shown me my progress and my strength. It starts with really simple actions such as bartering with the Moto drivers for a fair price on a ride across town. For most North American, we like to be told how much and to just pay it but that is not how it works here. As I gain experience from going places around town I am gathering info about how much it actually costs so I feel more confident in myself asking for what is fair. What I am loving is watching myself stand up for what I know is right. It is almost like a part of me steps back and just lets this confident voice come out and say “Ouya, 800, 800!” and if they say no then I just wave my hand and walk away. It is fun to watch them come back agreeing to the price moments later when they see I am serious about not getting ripped off and each time I am proving to myself that I am confident and strong.


Another example  happened a few days ago as I walked to the pool. There is a bar on the way and a man was dancing outside in the road. As I walked by he grabbed my wrists and starting dancing with me. I felt that old familiar feeling of extreme rage that came from a place of fear and my mind flashed an image of ripping my arms away from his grip, punching him and yelling at him to “Get the Fuck Off of Me!” It was a split second but it felt very real and I had a choice in that moment. I could REACT in a way that did not fit the situation or I could take a breath and RESPOND in a way that felt more appropriate. I watched as I accessed the situation in my mind and knew that I did not want him touching me that way but that I felt safe. There was no need for violence. I relaxed, moved a bit with him and when I went to say “ok, that’s enough” 3 men came and told him to let me go. I walked away processing all that had happened but it wasn’t until much later that I realized how much growth I had just demonstrated to myself! Not only did I feel the reaction of “Fight or Flight” in a situation that could have called for it but I was able to rationally assess whether or not it fit and made a choice.



(This small shack is actually the bar and that is Abbey’s little face peaking out from the corner on our way to “Koga au piscine” – swim at the pool!)

Yesterday I was attending another dance class with Gilbert and was learning some new steps with the young girls in the group. Gilbert is a very gentle, kind spirit and teaches very well. Unlike the Yoga that I practice in which there is no hands on approach meaning no physical contact during the classes, Gilbert would touch, push, move, pull my body into the form that he wanted from me. With my history and my practice of Celibacy, men touching me can be a very powerful experience and evoke a lot of emotional response. As Gilbert put one hand on my chest and one on my upper back, asking me to open up and move my chest I felt, again in a split second, fear -breath-calm, further proof of my healing. He and I have really great conversations about our healing journey’s and he offers me a reality about men that I have very little experience with. It is so important for me to not judge, assume or let past fears hold me back in each present moment. Gilbert offers me a safe space to not only experience male energy in a new way but also open my heart into dance the way I know I can. Thank you Gilbert!



(Three lovely young Rwanda girls practicing for an upcoming performance.)




(Gilbert dancing)

Once last example and maybe the most solidifying for me of the growth and healing that I have done. Going to the Sauna with Justin. This is along the same lines as a Turkish Bath and requires me to lie down in a dark, hot room and allow a strange man to rub and scrub my ENTIRE body, quite hard. When I say entire body I literally mean entire, inside and out! hmmmmmmm what could that mean. Well it means they scrub every inch of your body including delicate parts and usually in a fairly rough manner. So yesterday I had the opportunity to say “No” when asked “Is that ok?” in reference to a man washing my vulva. I understand it is the culture, I understand it is what is happening to everyone in the room and honestly it had no tone of sexual energy to it at all but I didn’t like it, so I said “NO!”. It was fine and he moved on and finished the massage and respected my words. Justin was beside me and as always says to me “let me know if you need me to tell him anything!” But this time he added “but I trust you have a voice.” That was such a wonderful statement and it gave me such a feeling of confidence in knowing that he believed I was capable to speaking up for myself. This was exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you Justin and Bosco the masseuse!



(This is not the Sauna I am speaking of but is actually the place that I go to on a regular basis for sauna, “regular” massages, and to help teach swimming lessons!)



(This is Justin and Myself on the day we met in person – finally!)

Real life experiences teach the important lessons in life and they are integral to learning and growing into who I am. I am grateful for all that I have done to get me here and I have no regrets about the life I have had as it provides me with great adventure and opportunity for growth!

A big thank you to Sherry Robin for offering to buy me a camera, now I am back in action and look forward to telling my story with photos as well! Thank you Sherry!

Simply Symbolic

I have finished the paperwork for my new Visa, an extension of 3 months has been requested and paid for as of today. It buys me time in the country to see what is next for me here. Justin, my host, has been such a great help to me during my transition into living in Rwanda. He is a Christian and yet somehow he understands everything that I speak about in terms of my process which for me is the practice of Yoga. Yoga literally meaning “Union”, the union of the Divine Self and the Human self  and is really a search for understanding the pure light nature  that exists within us all. Some people call it God, Light, consciousness, Spirit, Soul etc. Whatever you call it, to me it is all the same and we all have different ways of finding it within our own lives.

At Yasodhara Ashram (www.yasodhara.org) Swami Radha’s teaching focus on symbolism and I learned to see that my mind had created stories and ideas about things in life including myself, other people, even objects. The mind likes to label, judge, categorize and color things with imagination in order to make us feel safe and secure. By unraveling these stories and looking at the symbolism that I had created for my own life I began to see how those stories kept me stuck in a lot of places in my life. A simple example would be: “I don’t like peanut butter.” Sounds harmless enough but the fact is that I love peanut butter and had as a child as well. Somewhere along my life I created a story that I didn’t like it and it became a fact in my mind that I believed. It wasn’t until I was living at the Ashram and had very limited control over what I ate that I began to explore eating PB with the apples we were given for snack once a day. When I was faced with the reality that I had limited access to things that made me feel comfortable ie: favorite foods, I had to challenge that story and see where it came from and if it still served me. Although the possibility now lies in the fact that I now have created a story that says I love PB, it at least serves me better in my life as it opened up my mind to all kinds of other foods and ultimately experiences.

Can you imagine coming to a new culture with a story like “I don’t like……such and such?”  For me, I know it limits my ability to explore new things and have a full and rich experience and I know that I learned this lesson by having my comforts taken away from me so I could really look at why they were there and if I wanted to keep them. Having something that comforts me is not a bad thing but if they hold me from living the life I want to live then Yes, they need to be worked with. So here I am in this culture that has very few things that comfort me but yet I search for them daily. I wake up every morning wanting to have a classic style breakfast with bacon, eggs, toast, and hashbrowns but that is not what I get, nor will I get at some point I need to be able to either let that go or just honor the desire for comfort and provide it in some other way.

What I know about myself is that I crave structure and routine. I also know that I have a hard time creating this for myself and sticking to it. Why is it so hard to give myself the things that make me Thrive? When I am in community with others who are working within a routine I do much better but since leaving the Ashram I have seen just how hard it is to do it on my own and without the community support. It all comes down to self-love and self-worth for me. If I love myself I do things that demonstrate that love. If we all loved ourselves we would give ourselves  what we truly needed everyday, first not last! I see how creating a routine for myself that I can do anywhere I go will provide me with the structure I crave and allow me to Thrive in any situation. So that is my plan for the next week, to come up with a small practice that will help me to fee more secure within myself and stop seeking (so much) external things to do it for me. The truth is that nothing external can last forever and the only real thing I can count on is within myself. I know this from experience and my spiritual practices can be as simple as waking up every morning at the same time and saying “I am the change I want to see in the world!” but make all the difference in how I feel for the rest of the day.

Today I decided to love myself even more than yesterday and put it into action so I went out for a walk to get lost in the city of Kigali. It was a wonderful adventure and it lead me to a greater appreciation for this experience that I have created for myself in my life. Bravery doesn’t have to look at certain way or be a certain thing, but today I felt my courage being demonstrated to myself by my confidence and ability to navigate my way around in the city. I am seeking now how much this experience for me is about empowering myself to live life the way I truly am meant to. Take a risk, jump right in, have compassion, and enjoy the every moment of the journey!

Out of the Blue…


Choice is always there for us, in every moment, every mood, every action. So its not that feeling a bit blue is what holds me back, its how I choose to respond to it and for how long. So I made a choice to honor the part of me that feels afraid, held back, heavy, stuck, or whatever it is and to give it some love. After I gave it some love by acknowledging it and talking to it with kindness in my journal I decided how I was going to feel and then made it happen. Its not that I can just put on a happy face, mood or attitude but I can choose to do things that help me move more towards feeling lighter, more joyful, and happy. I realized that I was in Culture shock and needed to give myself what I have been resisting since I arrived out of fear of not having an “authentic experience” – white people things! I am a Canadian, I have lived in North America all my life and Africa is very, very different so when I finally saw the importance of giving myself something familiar, it made a world of difference. I went to the fancy Hotel Serena to be around English speaking people, white people, a beautiful pool and washrooms with TP and hand soap! Then diner out at Meze Fraishe (I Am Fresh!) which is an American owned Mexican restaurant with delicious food and very friendly staff! I felt so much better, relieved almost knowing that these things are here for me when I need them. I also went to the Movies and saw “The Heat” which was awful but it was the familiarity I was after not the entertainment.

Yesterday I went with my friend Leonard (the one who I met at the Sauna and whose wife I helped apply for a job in Canada) to an orphanage by his house. I knew it wouldn’t be as straight forward as I would like getting there so I surrendered to the 5 hour journey there and back, stopping in peoples homes, his local businesses and finally the Misericordia Orphanage. I asked specifically about small babies and young children of which there were only 5, all other kids had been moved to another branch in Cyangugu. The babies and children were paraded out to me all dressed in nice clothes and again, I was handed babies to hold!. It was wonderful to be able to hold them, touch them and let them explore my body with their curious little fingers.

As I held each one I was told of their stories which were horrific. To hear that all 5  of them had been “thrown”, literally meaning thrown away just hours or days after birth to be found by local people who brought them to the orphanage (one of them in a graveyard) was sad to say the least, I am still finding words for how I feel about it all. On top of that some of them had HIV as well. At first glance these babies and young ones look fairly healthy and well cared for but when I look and listen more carefully I see that they are not. It is not a sign of a healthy child to just sit or stand and not make any noise,  just be there. As much as we want kids in North America to sit still and behave which is what these kids did extremely well, it is not healthy behavior. They had no spark, no life, no inquisitive looks, no toys, no creative expression and it appeared no stimulation in the form of toys, colors or books. So I asked what I could do to help and was directed towards the larger orphanage in town which is connected to this one as well to talk to the director. I see how I can offer at least something new for them to experience and possibly introduce them to hoola hoops, toys, maybe swimming at the pool. I know I have something to offer them and I saw how much they needed even just  a loving touch. I see that my heart wants to open up in this way, to these children and that there is healing here for both parties.

So today as I continue to process all I experienced in this short visit as well as what it is I am meant to do here, I was kind and gentle with myself and once again found myself near the water. I was having a massage when a flash of insight came to me about next steps. I know what I love and I know what makes me feel good – Dance and Micheal Jackson. I was able to bring it back to what is already here for me, what has already presented itself to me in terms of what I can do. I can dance. I can teach “Thriller” for Thrill the World and I have made a few connections with locals that feel good. So backing up to what originally brought me to Africa in the first place and seeing how I can put that into action lead me to realize I can give back by using MJ as my guide, once again!

My plan as of today is to continue to inquire about kids, schools, locals, white people who want to learn and participate in “Thrill the World” by learning the choreography and use the money I obtain to help buy some equipment for the local swim instructors I have been helping, as well as help Gilbert (the local traditional dance teacher who teaches kids for free) afford to buy costumes and have a place to teach dance. My big goal would be to help bring Gilbert to Santa Barbara to teach a workshop on East AFrica dance, which is what he would love to do. So how does this fit into me not being ready to do big things?…….well, this is already here for me, this is what I love to do – dance to MJ and it provides a vehicle for me to do that and to share it with others with a by product of helping people with financial energy (money) I acquire through doing so. Again this is just a way of me taking a step towards something and it can change in an instant if it needs to. So far I have three places to teach, good feedback on it being popular and motivation for being here! Good things are revealed – out of the blue!





Amanda In the Mirror

Michael Jackson says it so well in so many of his songs and this one in particular is a Theme song of mine because I feel like it speaks so clearly to what I am doing in my own life. Every little step counts, every little change matters and everything we do impacts everyone else in the world. I know for me, sometimes a change for the better can initially feel like a step into the negative but if it is my heart guiding me to take that step then I can trust that from the dark emerges the light. A natural, full circle effect that happens everyday of our lives. Letting go of the resistance to being my best self. Be brave enough to look into the dark spaces and find the spark of light that resides somewhere in the middle. No one is all dark and no one is all light, I strive for balance but with balance comes a very necessary honesty with oneself and the need to accept all parts that exist. Shine the light on the dark spots and bring them into the light for all the see. If everyone wore their full faces everyday the division between us would crumble as our true oneness in being human would be revealed. We never think we will be on the other side of the coin but it can happen at anytime to anyone. This is a tough challenge, being human, but if we all do it together we will see it can be a beautiful ride. I am grateful for all the various kinds of support I have received from friends, family and perfect strangers who have helped me on my journey so far. Thank you to those who have been brave enough to face themselves which in turn help me face even more of myself. Hari Om (Hindu Healing Mantra)


“Man In The Mirror”

I’m Gonna Make A Change,
For Once In My Life
It’s Gonna Feel Real Good,
Gonna Make A Difference
Gonna Make It Right . . .

As I, Turn Up The Collar On My
Favourite Winter Coat
This Wind Is Blowin’ My Mind
I See The Kids In The Street,
With Not Enough To Eat
Who Am I, To Be Blind?
Pretending Not To See
Their Needs
A Summer’s Disregard,
A Broken Bottle Top
And A One Man’s Soul
They Follow Each Other On
The Wind Ya’ Know
‘Cause They Got Nowhere
To Go
That’s Why I Want You To

I’m Starting With The Man In
The Mirror
I’m Asking Him To Change
His Ways
And No Message Could Have
Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World
A Better Place
Take A Look At Yourself, And
Then Make A Change

I’ve Been A Victim Of A Selfish
Kind Of Love
It’s Time That I Realize
That There Are Some With No
Home, Not A Nickel To Loan
Could It Be Really Me,
Pretending That They’re Not

A Widow Deeply Scarred,
Somebody’s Broken Heart
And A Washed-Out Dream
They Follow The Pattern Of
The Wind, Ya’ See
Cause They Got No Place
To Be
That’s Why I’m Starting With

I’m Starting With The Man In
The Mirror
I’m Asking Him To Change
His Ways
And No Message Could Have
Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World
A Better Place
Take A Look At Yourself And
Then Make A Change

Take A Look At Yourself And
Then Make The Change
You Gotta Get It Right, While
You Got The Time
‘Cause When You Close Your
You Can’t Close Your . . .Your

No Message Could Have
Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World
A Better Place
Take A Look At Yourself And
Then Make A Change

Gonna Feel Real Good Now!
I’m Gonna Make A Change
It’s Gonna Feel Real Good!
Come On!
Just Lift Yourself
You Know
You’ve Got To Stop It.
I’ve Got To Make That Change,

You’ve Got To
You’ve Got To Move! Come
On! Come On!
You Got To . . .
Stand Up! Stand Up!
Stand Up!
Stand Up And Lift
Yourself, Now!

Gonna Make That Change . . .
Come On!

Make That Change.

I Do: In sickness and In health

Lessons come in all forms and for me this week it came in the form of a cold! I have been in bed for the last 4 days resting and giving my body the reassurance that I hear what it is saying and that I am listening. In Rwanda there is a very different way of seeing illness and I have been asked everyday, many times why I am not going to the hospital or taking any medicine. It is hard to explain all that I feel I know about my own body, how I feel about “medicine”, what I feel I need to do to for myself and to not come across as if I am “better” or more “advanced” than the people of Rwanda. There are many layers to it all and what I have found is that I am so much stronger and capable of just simply being me and not having to explain myself, just saying “Ouya, Murakoze” (No Thank you!) and continuing on with what is right for me. I was able to lock my door (to keep little ones out of my room), stay in bed, drink water, relax, write, read, watch movies and reflect without feeling too much guilt about it all. It is often difficult to be sick in someone else’s home and for me especially difficult to really do what I need to do which is nothing, be alone, not talk, and not feel bad about it. It’s not that I didn’t have moments of guilt or flashes of pressure to be better so I could show them that I can do more than just sleep but I choose to simply notice these thoughts, even sit with them for a while and then let them go.

So much can happen in the mind when we are left with just it as company and a body that is not functioning in a way that allows us to distract it from the thoughts that like to run wild. In this short period of time, I have gone from being homesick and totally freaked out with no idea what I was doing or how I was going to survive and totally ready to leave to feeling fully engulfed in the culture once again, hopeful and fearless. It is not because I am unsure of the journey I am on, it is simply the process revealing itself to me. Through this process I was able to see my strength and personal growth because I do not give into these emotions, feelings or thoughts that are based on fear – I get to the root of the fear and find ways to help myself. A lot of the time the root of the fear is something that is not a pure thought of mine and has been implanted there by some else, media, or  as a societal norm. The mind is a sponge soaking up everything is sees, hears, tastes, feels, and touches. It is my job to be careful about what I expose myself to and also to decipher what is real for me in the moment and decide if that is what I want to think or feel, or if that is how I want to respond, react or  interpret what is coming in. Like I said before, this is the practice of Yoga and it is through this constant practicing of being aware of how I act verses how I want to act that I learn about who I am and  who I want to be. This is a practice of complete acceptance of my own imperfection and a knowing that I can change and be who I want to be. Along with this is a greater understanding that who I am in this very moment is perfect because it is the vehicle to me seeing what it is that I want to change.

Acceptance for me this week came in the form of hidden expectations. As much as I practice not having any expectations they are there, and they like other things can be ones that I have created for myself or ones that others have created for me. One of my biggest expectations comes in the form of not every being good enough. I put so much pressure on myself to “Do” and to do it perfectly or to be the best there ever was and if I am not doing it that way then I need to just give up. What this ultimately leads to in my life is a complete stop of almost all things and a physical sensation of being very heavy, so heavy that it is painful to even think about doing at all. I end up giving up before I start. I have done this with many things in my life and now see is as a kind of reverse perfectionism. I strive for perfection so much so that I don’t even want to attempt, which to me reflects the underlying self-worth and self-confidence issues that have been part of my life for as long as I can remember. At this point in the journey though I am moving out of that trap of not doing and beginning to do, although it feels thick and sludgy at times, it is so much better than not doing anything. As I further reveal who I am not only to the world but to myself, I see how necessary it is to take is slow and steady to catch those moments of fear that create the stagnation and make them manageable in the moment.

One thing in particular that came up very strongly for me over the last week was that I am not here to do anything and if I am very honest with my intentions for coming here it was a fantasy that my mind has built for which I am not ready for yet. I know, as I have said before that I am capable of great things (as we all are) but I have to surrender to what is real for me right now which is that I am not ready. I have not healed enough to begin giving to others in the way I know I want to and even then I cannot do it that way I did in the past as that was what depleted me in the first place. As an empath (someone who feels the emotions of others) I have been drawn to do many things in my life in order to take other people’s pain away from them and what I did was take it on and take it inside myself. I did this with many things, for example with my Mother by buying her gifts to make her feel special when I saw she was not happy. My work as an RN, in all areas but most damaging to me were the Abortion Clinic, Miscarriage and Fertility areas of work, because I was unconsciously attempting to save everyone from feeling the pain I had experienced around sexuality in general. I was trying to save the world by taking on everyone else’s pain, thinking I was capable of doing so if I was a good enough person. This is not my job, this is not anyone’s job, it is up to each one of us to manage our own emotions and deal with our own pain – no one can do it for us. That took me a few years to learn!

What I realized this week is that I need more healing. My heart is just learning to open again and I have to be more gentle and kind to it then I have ever been. I have to honor my needs, my wants and my hearts desire at this time. Some family members have referred to what I am doing as “following my dreams” which is really the furthest things from the reality. My dreams include: dancing, acting, horses, water, acrobatics, helping and as I slowly unravel the layers of hurt around my heart I see that I have always wanted to be a mother. My dream was not to get deathly ill, tear my relationships apart and have no home, no things or no money – that sounds ridiculous when I put it that way but that is what is happening in my life right now, to some it would be a nightmare! But it is the path I need to follow to get to my dreams and I will do it because I am aware that this is the work that will lead me to being able to live my dreams.

So how do I stay in Rwanda and move towards my dreams? When will I finally see that my dreams are important enough to give time and energy to? When will I truly embrace my worth and how can I do that knowing that there are people who don’t even have shoes or food to eat everyday without feeling selfish or guilty? For now I just stay. I stay here. I don’t run away, I don’t give into the fear or the comforts that I crave. I stay and trust. It may only mean I stay one more day but for now, I stay.

Humanities 101

What does it truly mean to be human? It is the one thing that we ALL have in common. It is the thing that connects us to each other but it is also the thing that keeps us apart. Every human being has a body and mind all its own, one that is shaped, formed, molded and trained by those around us and the environment in which we live starting even before birth. The layers of events, experiences, thoughts, actions and truths all being held within each and everyone of us which creates the uniqueness that I feel begins to make us feel separate from one another. It is true that no one else can experience things the way that we do for ourselves and no matter how much we try to explain, demonstrate, or express our truths there is no way for anyone else to truly see life the exact same way that we do. So as we grow and evolve into the beings that our environment helps to create how can we do so without pulling further and further away from our oneness with each other.

For me, it began with what felt like an earthquake coming from within the sac of skin that held me together as a human being. I felt as though I would explode, like there was nothing keeping me together on the inside. I felt so alone yet I had a family, a fiance, friends, a career, hobbies, a home, two cars, lots of things and a cat  – how come I felt so alone? What I didn’t feel I had was a purpose. I didn’t feel like I was being honest to anyone, ever, not even myself. I was always searching for that thing that would make me be successful, make me happy, make me fit into this world that everyone around me appeared to be living in with a smile on their face. But what I always felt was that those smiles were masks hiding the truth. I would often feel it in my body when someone would hug me or talk to me, I could actually feel incongruence and that was very confusing. Was everyone around me lying too? If they were, did they know it? Why? I am not saying that there aren’t times when we are genuinely happy, I am simply saying that as a society it doesn’t appear to be acceptable to be honest about how we actually feel in every moment. Our common courtesies of “Hi, how are you?” really mean nothing if we don’t actually want to hear the how someone is doing. It is not possible to be happy all the time, smiling all the time, kind all the time and yet we try to do it. We expect others to do it.

When someone is depressed we become uncomfortable and do not know what to say, we pretend it’s not happening. The person who is depressed feels even more isolated and alone because its not “normal” to be depressed, when actually it is a completely normal part of the cycle to be depressed. Everything must come down – emotional gravity, if you will. Pretending that we do not feel depressed is what pushes us into severe states of depression and the lack of societal acknowledgement that these times of darkness are needed in order to deal with the huge amount of stimulation and emotional events that occur in every moment of the day only makes us feel even more wrong for being human. I had so many deep, dark, what felt like endless cycles of depression and I tried everything. I tried counseling, drugs, therapy, doctors, natural paths, massages, shopping, boyfriends, work, food (eating too much, not eating at all), and I tried denial. But what finally worked was  – acceptance.

Acceptance of being human, of my own truth. Acceptance of  my own inner voice that had been trying to guide me for years. I accepted that I didn’t believe what everyone around me was telling me to be the ultimate truth. I began to trust that small voice and really listen to her. This is the voice that guides me everyday, in every moment I listen for her and wait patiently for her to let me know if I am doing what is true for me. I accept that my mind is only one small part of being human and that I can control it. I can change it. I can even use it as a tool to help me live a more fulfilling life. I learned this skill through my study of Yoga and it is not any easy skill to acquire and takes daily practice but it is the very tool that has allowed me to embrace the beauty of my own being. It  has allowed me to find, witness, trust and know that part of being human is acknowledging that I also have a spirit, a soul. By acknowledging my own divinity I can not doubt that all humans share this in common and so I am able to see the world through the eyes of the soul. This has changed everything for me.

I no longer identify myself as just a human body, or just a human mind. I am no longer held captive by my thoughts, they do not consume me. I can control them. If you would have said this to me when I was in one of my dark places I would have come up with all kinds of reasons why that  would not work for me or how no one understood what I was going through, no one could help me. This would have been my truth in that moment because the thought or the idea that I had a soul was not part of my reality. Once I realized that there was something greater, bigger in life than just being a human, caught up in the daily drama’s, I began to see that my life had purpose simply because I existed. Existing was purpose in itself.

So as I am here in Rwanda listening to and following my inner guide (Om Krishna Guru), I trust that feeling depressed is part of the journey. My subtle expectations coming to light as I feel once again the pressure to do something HUGE, something magical, something that I can hold up as an accomplishment and be recognized for especially by those who feel I am wasting my time. It is in the darkness that I have time to listen and allow the truth to be revealed. I keep on doing the work to remove the masks and see the truth through self reflection, journalling and  remembering to breath. Yesterday, I helped a woman who has been job less for 1 1/2 years make a contact in Quebec, Canada for a possible nursing job. Afterwards I was invited by her and her husband to come meet his family and spent the night being welcomed into a strangers home with open arms. I now have a connection to another local family and he knows an orphanage that has babies near by and will take me there when I am ready. I spoke to the local swim instructor about volunteering my skills to help teach lessons to the adults and children as well as teaching Aqua-Fit in the local pool. All of this happening because I accept my limitations, love them, work with them and trust that all things happen for a reason. Even something as simple as making connections with people  at the sauna helps me see how allowing myself to be human really is love in action. I am here to be healed by the pure and simple humanity that exists so raw and naturally in the culture of Rwanda. They in turn will reap the benefits of that healing as I learn to further embrace my purpose by giving myself back to them as a gift of gratitude. We are one in the spirit of Humanity! Om Om