That being said, I am a social introvert, one of those uncomfortable mixes where I need to be with people some of the time, often to talk through ideas and plans. I need input and companionship, even if it does tire me.
So, how did I end up inviting a 16-year-old Rwandan boy from Kenya to come and live with me for a year? It seems unlikely and uncharacteristic at best, but within the next few days, Ben and I will leave Kenya and after some 30+ hours, will arrive in Knoxville, Tennessee.
I met Ben’s mother, Clène Nyiramahoro, in about 2010 through a mutual friend, Liz. Clène had completed her MA degree at a local seminary in Nairobi and was teaching in the translation degree program at yet another university. The numbers of students in that program had declined severely over the previous years, and was about to be closed altogether. Clène needed a job and I needed someone who was bilingual in French and English to help develop a website for the training program that was being set up. That was the beginning of a long and fruitful work relationship as well as a personal friendship.
Clène seems to be good at everything she puts her mind to. She easily accomplished the French translation for the website, then proceeded to translate the book about translation into French. As the training program began, she taught a variety of classes, and did them well. She could teach the same courses in French, thus helping to ensure that the English and French programs were at the same level and standard. Within a short time, she had become a vital part of the training department that I was running. Now, I don’t know what we would do without her.
As we had social occasions, I got to know Clène’s family: her husband Deo and her six children. The next to youngest, Vickie, turned out to be gluten intolerant, and I was able to help Clène find the appropriate food for her. I used to make her gluten-free cookies. The middle daughter, Aviel, was terrified of dogs, as we discovered when we had dinner together at a house with LOTS of dogs. Then I met Halle (short for Halleluya) after she graduated from secondary school and was applying for various scholarships to universities in the US. She did some volunteer work for me, helping to catalogue 4,000 books for our library. She eventually got a very good scholarship to Wellesley in Boston.
Due to the sudden death of a mutual friend of ours, I ended up helping pay school fees for Ben, the 4th child in the family. He was very bright, but the school he had been assigned to for secondary school was not a very good one. Students there had the reputation of burning down buildings, which parents were then obliged to pay for. By a miracle, he was accepted at a private school in Kabarak, the 3rd best school in Kenya. Each time I paid his fees, he sent me a handwritten thank you note.
As I was usually in the US for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I invited Halle to come for a visit over the holidays. She came to be with my cousins and me that first Christmas, and we all fell in love with her. After I moved back to the US in 2016, she came again with Clène to celebrate with us. Clène and her family were hoping to be able to move to the US to work on PhD’s, and to bring the family. However, that didn’t work out, at least not yet. However, in one of the notes Ben wrote to me, he expressed his great desire to study in the US.
In February 2017, I had started to re-read notes that people had given me, for Christmas, birthdays, and the like. I read one a day and prayed for that person. One day, I pulled out the note from Ben about wanting to study in the US. He was in his Junior year in Kabarak, so if he was going to study in the US, it was time to make that happen.
We had learned from Halle’s experience that even the best Kenyan school did not adequately prepare one for a US university. There were many things she needed to learn, like writing essays and believing that professors would actually HELP you when you didn’t understand things. Her teachers in Kenya usually just said, “You need to read more.”
And so, the process of bringing Ben to the US for his Senior year of high school began.