Category Archives: Photos


Prostitution has been the main source of income for the women at Casa de Esperanza. Leaving prostitution means these women must find another way to support themselves and feed their families. So the past four days I’ve been training women how to batik fabric. And they’ve been teaching me how to put out fires. Literally.

Yesterday while melting wax, the heat burned a hole through the pot. The wax caught on fire and within seconds the flames spread beyond my control. I was panicked. Thankfully, several of the women in my class (along with Jan) were able to quench the flames. Nothing was lost that can’t be replaced and no one was hurt. And I learned a valuable lesson: water isn’t the solution to an oil-based fire.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, here’s a primer on how to batik:

Heat candles over the stove (try not to set them on fire)

Dip tools in hot wax

Create a pattern on muslin

Soak muslin for 1 hour in dye, stirring occasionally

Rinse in clear water and hang to dry

Iron fabric between newsprint or paper towels to remove wax



Sneak Peek

Still processing the first two days; when my thoughts can form a coherent sentence I promise to write a reflection. In the meantime, here are a few photos…

hanging the batiked fabric out to dry

the young girls returning from primary school

afternoon siesta in the girls dormitory

campus housing at Casa de Esperanza

Elizabeth and Hillary (wearing a dress made by our sewing team)

Animal Planet

Before Africa, the only type of animals I knew where either caged creatures at the local zoo or domesticated pets. No comparison.

mama ostrich and her babies

You don’t talk during a safari. You become mute like a giraffe because your mouth just hangs open, speechless at the sights.

what does a giraffe say? nothing…it makes no sound. giraffes communicate entirely through gestures.

Guess this is why they call it wildlife. How does one control a herd of elephants like this? They don’t. They get out of the way.

stampede of elephants

zebra, eland, impala

What’s Missing From Your Wrist?

One of these fabulous new wristlets from Amani Burundi (aka Amahoro)!

amahoro wristlet

Wristlets created by Burundian women. Available in a variety of textiles.

Burundi products aren’t yet available online. I know, I know…I’m working on it.

In the meantime, check out some of the other items from Amani Kenya online, or swing by the Amani boutique in Washington DC.

The Building Blocks of Summer

East of Bujumbura, elevated 2500 meters in the mountains sits the rural village of Muramvya and the home of Isai & Samantha Torres, founders of an NGO seeking to care for Burundi’s orphaned children. Through a divine connection, I met this couple and their newborn baby, Malaki.

Mountain Retreat

Thanks to Isai and Samantha, I am enjoying a few days of rest at their home in the mountains.

The first morning I was sipping strong coffee and basking in the warmth of the sun’s rays. Then I began to notice through the fence slats a procession of children wandering up and down this mountain path.

burundi children

It’s 10am on a Wednesday. Why aren’t the children at school?

And what in the world are they carrying on their heads?

child's burden africa

Samantha explains. It’s summer vacation the children are working to help support their families. They’re molding, baking, and carrying bricks.

Together, we wander down the trail from their house to check out the operation. The path is dusty. And steep. How do they manage this trek while balancing a load of bricks on their heads?

Along the way, Samantha greets her neighbors with a warm smile, introducing me in perfect Kirundi. They’re all glad to meet her visitor, but really they want to know, “Where is Baby Malaki?” Its clear to me that she and Isai are well established and have made a significant impact on this community.

About 15 minutes later, we arrive at the brick-making project. There are 50 total workers: 25 men, 25 children. The men fabricate the bricks; the children distribute them.

Brick-making 101

Soil is mixed with water pressed into a wooden frame. The molded mud bricks will spend three days drying prior to baking in the kilns. After baking, they are stacked and prepared for distribution. Each brick costs $0.3, including delivery.

Ranging in age from 7-16, the children earn a humble 500 Francs ($0.41) per day. They make the trip from this valley up the mountain to the main road by foot—barefoot—six times per day. Its an arduous journey, but the children don’t complain. Hunger is strong motivation.

Swept off my feet by love

Journal entry from my first day at Amani:amani ya juu

After a hectic commute weaving in and out of Nairobi’s rush-hour traffic, we approach the Amani Ya Juu headquarters. In the midst of a bustling capital city, the Amani compound is a serene and peaceful hideaway complete with lush gardens. Barely discernible from the street, the buildings are discretely set back to the rear of the lot. Simple and streamlined, they are designed in a way which seamlessly combines modern architecture with old-world charm in a style I can only think to describe as rustic elegance.
I feel an odd sense that my life in Congo and my life in America may not be so hard to unite as I had originally imagined.

amani gardenWalking up the driveway, I enter the Amani shop. Immediately, am transported from primitive, sub-saharan Africa to an upscale boutique resembling downtown Milwaukee’s Third Ward. Melanie, a volunteer from America, orders a latte for me which will be delivered from the garden cafe as I peruse the assorted products and posh decor. This unique atmosphere appears an ideal marriage between the dichotomy of Africa and America.

As I finish my latte, Melanie directs me to the building which houses Amani’s production and design department. More than twenty-five women emerge from behind sewing machines to greet me. They’ve been awaiting my arrival. Forming a circle, they welcome me with voices raised in song, hands clapping, feet dancing, and faces shining…there is a light emanating from within these women.

My hostess and tour guide, Josephine, embraces me with a tender hug, “Welcome home, Sister.”

I feel like a foreign dignitary as the women line up to introduce themselves. We exchange greetings, hugs, and kisses.

Somehow my African skirt and broken Swahili tear down any walls or assumed pretentiousness in my visit.
Somehow we have an instantaneous bond which transcends our skin color and economic status.
Somehow each woman is radiant and joyful despite the brutality of their circumstances.

Josephine receives me with genuine honor and proceeds to share her story with me…
Nearly 10 years ago, she and her family fled Congo as refugees. Shortly after arriving in Nairobi, she came to Amani and learned how to stitch. At Amani, Josephine found training, employment, hope in Christ, and a community of women who share a similar story. She explains that healing is best found in community. I recall the mosaic mural on the back wall of the production room which boasts “Pamoja Tunabadilishwa”, together we are being transformed.

women sewing amani

As the day continues, I visit with more women in a variety of different operations (jewelry, quilting, export, quality control, distribution). Each shares her individual story and acknowledges the many advantages of coming to Amani. They all point toward God’s love and peace as the primary benefit.

These women recognize that the spiritual far outweighs the material. Can we please bring this lesson to America?

Numerous times throughout the day, tears well up in my eyes…

What a gift I have been given in receiving such an abundant and loving embrace.
What a privilege it is to partake in this organization, in the lives of these women.
What a calling to unite my passion for design with my desire to serve the Lord.

Saving lives
Some may say that Amani has been a life-saver for these marginalized women. And although many still live in the slums, they can now afford to send their children to school, to provide food for their families, to receive healthcare, etc. The remarkable thing is that not one of these women credit Amani as their savior. Instead, they declare Christ as the One who has saved them from the pit of despair.

American or African or Asian, we have all found ourselves, at one time or another, in the pit of despair. As the women at Amani can attest, God stretches down his arm, offers us His hand, and pulls us out. He rescues us, restores our hope, heals our hearts. And with mended hearts, the women here minister with an outpouring of love sewn through the eye of a needle.

Day one draws to a close
I find it difficult to articulate what I feel. I am humbled by the welcome I have received, overjoyed to be part of this tight-knit community. I feel spoiled by their love…a selfless, communal love which they lavish on me without even knowing me. I’ve been swept off my feet by love.

This is Amani: a broken, non-traditional family. The members of this family represent different races, nations, tribes, and tongues. Together, our brokenness is made whole, we are restored as God’s children, and united by His love.

“We have all known the long loneliness, and we have learned that the only solution is love—and that love comes with community.” – Dorothy Day

Fashion Advice from my Financial Guy

Before I left for Congo, my financial adviser offered me some advice, the nature of which had nothing to do with finances. His suggestion?

People of other cultures are more eager to embrace you as a foreigner if you dress as the locals do. So when you go to Congo, make sure you don the African style.

Naturally, I thanked him for the suggestion, but in my heart I scoffed at such a notion. I believe he was genuine in wanting to share valuable advice, however, I doubted the validity of it. He has never been to Africa, let alone Congo, so how would he know?

Fast-forward nine months to an event which proves his advice

During a conversation with my stylish friend Tete, I mentioned how I love the creativity and design of African hairstyles. Changing month-to-month, the hair of these women can completely alter their appearance. Long, short. Dark, light. Maybe even colored accents. Curly, straight, crimped. Braided, twisted, rolled. The possibilities are endless.

The following day, Tete and her hairdresser came to get the party started braid my hair. Had known what I was getting into, I doubt I would’ve agreed to it. The process lasted over 6 hours and cost a mere $10 to transformthis American into a true Congolese…well, my hair, at least.

hair weave mesh

Did I mention it hurt? Cause it did. Immensely. Slightly less painful than being stabbed to death with a blunt object, I imagine.

Slowly, but surely, the pain subsided.

Slowly, but surely, the attention I received increased.

Week 1, I questioned myself. Was this really a wise decision, considering I am already a spectacle with my shockingly pale, glow-in-the-dark skin? Frequently, I feel like the lone white-chocolate morsel which got mixed in with the bag of dark chocolate chips. I stick out like a sore thumb.

By week 2, I was convinced that my financial adviser was correct. Granted, I had already observed that the people in the community love it when I wear my kikwembe (Conoglese skirt), but that has never caused such extreme excitement as my hair.

I’ve just now found the secret to unlocking the door of relationship building

  • Walking through the market, women no longer jeer at me, shout muzungu, or ask for money. Rather, my hair seems to bridge the gap between our difference in skin color. Somehow it has leveled the playing field. The same women who used to jeer are now discussing my hair, remarking on my beauty, and sharing how glad they are to see me embracing their style.
  • Walking around the university, students giggle from excitement. They pull out their camera phones, requesting to be photographed with me. The women offer advice about how to maintain and care for it, what products to use, how and when to wash it. The men thank me for my commitment to becoming Congolese.
  • Walking around the Women’s Center, everyone wants to engage me in conversation. “Who braided it?” “Is it your natural hair or is it mesh?” “Please let me braid it next time. When you’re ready for a new style, you must come and see me.”
  • Walking in my neighborhood, the children finally remember my name and run to greet me  when they see me coming. They want to touch my hair instead of my white skin. One woman has invited me to join her for lunch next week and offered to sew me an African style outfit to complement my African hair.

Saying farewell to the hair

By the end of week 3, it was time to bid farewell to my Congolese locks.

Mama Furaha and her daughter Brigette helped me to remove the braids. Noticing that my natural hair had developed major crimping, they declared that I have now become Congolese for good. Sad to disappoint, I informed them that the crimps would release when my hair became wet. They begged me to refrain from washing it, insisting that my students would LOVE to see it crimped.

(Personally, it reminded me of a bad 1980’s hairstyle. At this point though, I’m much less concerned about my appearance than you might imagine. I lasted 3 weeks without washing my hair…why shouldn’t I wait just one more day?)

So, here are a few pics showcasing the various styles and the life of my hair over the past few months.

braided mesh african hair

1. short, cropped, everyday style 2. hair braided with mesh 3. crimped hair after removing braids 4. for in-between, lazy days

Lesson learned. Next time, I’ll think twice before I dismiss advice from my finance guy.

My Father’s World

Planet Earth: Congo should have given you a glimpse of this spectacular country. Last weekend in Epulu, I experienced God’s creation like never before…

  • Relaxing outside in the evening, we watched a family of redtail monkeys gathering figs as they jumped between trees, swinging through the branches.
  • Hiking through the Ituri forest, we tracked elephants’ footprints and fresh dung to their bathing pools. Meanwhile, chimpanzees called out overhead among the canopy of trees.
  • Everywhere, we saw flowers more vibrant in color and more fragrant in aroma than could be found in the Boerner Botanical Gardens.
  • We had fruit so absurd we struggled to figure out the proper way to eat it.

green sweet fruit

Most of the weekend I was speechless; stunned at God’s amazing creations. Resounding through my veins, they classic hymn, “My Father’s World”, came to life.

This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.

The next verse has been my prayer this past week as I returned to Beni with my eyes burning at the sight of this corruption…

This is my Father’s world. O let me never forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:
Jesus Who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heaven be one.

Planet Earth: Congo

Who invented the idea of a zoo? Whoever it was, I’m certain that they did so with the intent to replicate Congo. More specifically, the Epulu village in Ituri province.

ituri jungleLast weekend, Chelsie, Brandon, and I ventured out into the jungle for a brief visit with our friend, Joel. Fellow muzungu and cartographer extraordinaire, Joel lives six hours north in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.

Somewhat of an outdoors enthusiast, I’m familiar with the woods. I’ve spent time in the Wisconsin wilderness, marveling at the deciduous trees and their color-changing leaves. I’ve wandered among the great, towering redwoods of California. I’ve been caught in showers of the Costa Rican rainforest. Never before, though, has this outdoorsy girl seen anything like Ituri. It’s a dense, tropical, rolling region of lush rainforest barely penetrated by civilization. The beauty of this place left me speechless most of the weekend, awed at God’s vast imagination to create such unrivaled flora and fauna.

I’ll spare you the minute details about the trip, sharing just two of my favorite memories: Continue Reading

See How Easily You Can Learn Swahili

Five days a week, I awaken to the creaking of our compound gate being opened, followed by a clear, high-pitched noise. It’s our cheerful Swahili teacher, Mwalimu Jean, whistling to summon the wuzungu students for the morning lesson. Mwalimu speaks Swahili and French, among other tribal languages. Unfortunately, he speaks no English. NONE. Therefore, our lessons usually consist of pantomime, charades, or pictionary. When those methods fail, we resort to a professional liaison: the French/English Dictionary.

One morning a few months ago, Mwalimu was teaching us new vocabulary, specifically referencing transportation. Here’s how the lesson ensued:

Mwalimu: Scribbles the new vocab word on the chalkboard: gari. He starts the explanation in French, which has remarkable similarity to English, “Gari. Signification: automobile.”

Me: Affirmative. I nod to indicate understanding: gari = automobile.

Mwalimu: Writes the next new vocab word on the board: forbeifo. He gives many clues, tries to articulate it.

Me: Blank face. No clue.

Mwalimu: Draws a rudimentary sketch on the board, pictionary style.

Me: “Does it mean truck?” I look it up in the dictionary, pointing to the corresponding French word.

Mwalimu: “Hapana.” Taking the dictionary himself, he attempts to look up the French word. But the dictionary is too limited. We’ve been defeated. Fail. Epic fail.

swahili teacher

Mwalimu Jean

Well, it would’ve been an epic fail with any other teacher. But Mwalimu is tenacious and persistent. Pausing to think of another way to define the word, he eventually explains that this is the type of gari driven by the Kasali family.
Then, he writes on the board:  4WD.

Wait for it.
Wait for it.

Oprah is now delighted (well, she would be if she was taking Swahili lessons with me), because I finally reach the Aha! Moment.

Me: This is why I love Swahili. Because I get to laugh. A lot. The illusive word I’m struggling to grasp is really just a bad spelling and pronunciation of English: for-bei-fo = four-by-four, four-wheel drive

I’ll allow you to imagine the rest of our lesson, conducted in a similar manner, with words like:

piki piki = motorcycle, moto-taxi
ndege = anything which flies (bird, airplane)
meli = anything which floats or moves on the water (boat, ship)