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The Ankenbrandt’s in their Homeland

7 Aug

Yes, as you can tell from our name…we are GERMANS. It has made us feel slightly at home here. Apart from the constant stank of cigarettes and the rather unpleasant sound of the language, we think we could even live here. The food is great…the beer is great…the company is great…well, just the company of my parents. Even though my mother could make friends with a brick wall, (and does, by the way), I would still prefer to just hang with them. German’s are efficient and make great bratwurst, but they don’t really understand southern hospitality…and definitely don’t understand the preciousness of the word “y’all.”


The precious town of Rothenburg…our first stop in our homeland.

But our time here has been extraordinary thus far. And let me just say…drumroll please…that I have not been sick ONE time since we have arrived in this country. Africa stomach has left me, and I must say I am overjoyed. I attribute it to the array of meat, cheese, beer, meat, more cheese, potatoes, and more beer. What can I say, I have German in my blood.

Don’t judge…we’re on vacation!!

Our first stop was in the town of Rothenburg, just about the cutest little German town you could imagine. We hiked, hung out with our inn keeper who I am sure doubles as Santie Claus in the winter months, and visited the Crime and Punishment Museum which was both strange and fascinating, as sick as that is to say.

Dad hanging with Herr Hocher, our innkeeper, or Santa!

Locked up in the stocks at the Crime and Punishment museum.

This morning we boarded a train for Beilstein, the sweetest little town on the Mosel River which runs into the Rein. On our drive in we saw about 20 castles nestled up in the lush German hills hugging the Mosel Valley. It is like a little fairytale land here…or Lord of the Rings. One of the two. Tomorrow we are visiting one of the best of these castles, as well as partaking in the wine festival going on here in the valley.

On the Mosel…beautiful.


Farewell my dear Rwanda

3 Aug

In approximately 5 hours, I will be sitting on a plane with my parents headed to Germany, looking at the rolling hills of Rwanda pass beneath me for the last time. Well, not the last time….I’ll be back. Last night I had a last dinner with my Rwanda family and it was the perfect way to say goodbye to this incredible place and the people I have come to love here more than can be articulated.

But I am not going to lie…I have gotten sick 2 other times this week and thought that the Lord was telling me, “This is it, James,” so I am ready to move on to a land where no more squishy friends will make it their lives work to take up residence in my intestines. That, my friends, I am ready for.

My last week here has been a whirlwind, emotional, wonderful, hard week. I am ready to be an Amurrican again, but Rwanda has stolen a large part of who I am and that has become so evident to me these past few days as I have said my goodbyes.

Here are some pics of some of the last adventures I had in Rwanda with my parents by my side.

We saw lots of monks on a walk we took our second day in Nyungwe forest. They are so hilariously weird.

Happy Birthday SUS! We got to celebrate twice for good ole’ Momma’s day. Once at Nyungwe where they brought out this cake with a literal fire cracker on it…and the other in Musanze at Virunga Lodge up in the Rwandan Volcanoes. I’d say it was pretty awesome.

Last visit with some of my favorite kiddos up in the Village where my friend Frances teaches. Love them.

They LOVED Susie. They sang her Happy Birthday in Kinyarwanda and one of them even rapped and broke it down for her. Awesome.

Most beautiful view ever! Yes, that is real life!

Second Birthday dinner at Virunga Lodge, drinking tea by the fire.

Last picture with my awesome team and family here. Love them.

Off to Germany we go!! Mother, showing me the whole plan. I am so obviously enthralled. Bring on the schnitzel!


29 Jul

Yay, yay, yay…that’s right, my parent’s are officially Rwandese.

They got here on Tuesday night, and I have not even remotely let them get over jetlag. We have been moving and shakin’ since they got here. My parents are rock stars, though. No woosies in me familia!


(at the airport…I wore my Rwanda shirt to welcome these cute people. They’re looking pretty dang good for a 36 hour travel day, eh?!)

Wednesday I dragged them all around Kigali. We went to the Genocide Memorial…so sobering, but so necessary to understand the daunting history of this country. But also to see the redemption and reformation of sweet Rwanda. Then I took them to the Kimironko market for the best of all cultural experiences. I think it was a little overwhelming, but a great chance for them to see some true Rwanda culture. We finished with dinner at the Manor where they had live music, which was really Rwandan Karaoke. It was as special as special music comes. And a hilarious experience for the three of us to share.

At the memorial.

Mom at the Kimironko market! She can’t get enough of the presh Rwandan babes!

Yesterday was supposed to be a day of giraffe sightings at Akagera National Park here in Rwanda, but instead I was up all night with the Africa stomach. TIA people, TIA. So we cancelled that and my mommy helped nurse me back to health. Being sick is a totally different experience when your mommy is around. I headed to the doctor for…lets see…the 50th time since I have lived in Rwanda. And what do I have…a bacterial infection. That’s right, the same that landed my friend Frances in an African hospital. NO THANK YOU! But thankfully I am on meds, and am on the up and up. And I will be on an antibiotic until I get on that plane to Germany, so no more worries peeps…in a few weeks I will have an American stomach filled with Chick-Fil-A instead of an African stomach filled with amoebas. PTLJ.

This morning we hopped on a very tiny, frightening plane to head to one of my favorite places in the world…Nyungwe Forest Lodge. Yes, this is my third time here. Don’t judge. We spent the day napping in the lush beds, getting spa pedicures (not my dad…haha) and watching monkeys swing through the trees outside our bedroom windows. I am loving beyond belief having my presh parents here. They rock, and so does our time together in Rwanda.

Swindling with some taxi drivers so they won’t give us the Muzungu price. Dad is laughing because of my Rwandan accent…but all my Rwanda people can back me up on the fact that you have to talk with a funny accent so they will understand you.

Sus getting pampered by Naomi…right off that balcony we saw swinging monkeys! HOLLER.


Yes, we are wearing almost matching Nyungwe fleeces. What can I say…we love being cheesy twins.

My sweet, sweet parental units! What cute thangs! Check Dad’s Nyungwe hat…we are loving on the swag.

The Circle of Life

25 Jul

I totally would have named this blog post “Nants ingonyama bagithi baga, sithi uhm ingonyama,” if it weren’t for the fact that I’m pretty sure you all have heard these words, but have never in your lives seen them written out. They are the first lyrics to The Lion King, Circle of Life. Duh…

Hilariously enough, in Swahili the words mean, “Here comes a lion father, oh yes it’s a lion.” Love it. And yes, on our Ugandan Safari we did see simbas. Of course, no surprise at all, I was sick the morning of our second game drive so of course I missed the pack of 8 lions. Yep…yet again my Africa stomach has stolen life experiences from me.

But I cannot complain. This weekend was hands down one of the coolest of my life. And thinking about it, I have been to some disgustingly cool places. But being on a legit Safari, seeing the glory of God played out right there in the wonder of His creation…it is pretty stinking incredible. I will give you a play by play in pictures. There is just too much to explain without the pics…and photo cred goes to Bets, because of course my camera broke. But thank goodness my twin and bestie has a legit camera and zoom lens.

First sighting of the day…hyenas. Weirdo animals. But the guide told us it is very rare that they will approach your car because they are timid animals. So we were pretty pumped. About 30 minutes after this, we saw 3 more hyenas preying on some sweet little kob. But I guess that’s why they call it the circle of life.

Up next…Pumba. Stinking hilarious. They run with their tails sticking straight up just like in LK. Later on one showed up while we were getting a drink, and I got dangerously close to it before it stuck its tail up in the air and scuttled off.

Most hilarious part of our whole trip. This baboon walks right in front of this car because it sees bananas on the front dashboard. So it walks around to the drivers window and knocks until they give him a banana. Insanity. But hilarious.

Just snacking on his prize.

Look at that tiny little guy. Monkeys are so weird, but you have to admit he is sort of ugly cute.

We went on a Safari boat cruise and saw about a million hippos, along with some crocs, elephants, lots of awesome birds, and lots of water buffalo. Of course I about passed out on the boat because I am a walking petri dish and am sick every stinking second, but it was still incredible.

These funny little birds stand there all day with their mouths open and wiggle their throats in and out to stay cool. Very fascinating.

Lovin the cute hippos.

We were very disappointed that on our first game drive we didn’t see any elephants…they are Betsy’s fave…but all was made right when we came upon this little family, complete with a 3 week old baby Dumbo. He kept sticking his little ears out like this. So precious.

Look at how little and precious he is!

Even though I did not actually see this lion, I am claiming that I did. A safari is not a safari without a lion sighting. We did see some the day before, but about 100 yards away.

Best weekend ever with some sweet friends. This was the view from our Lodge infinity pool. Pretty awesome. The second morning we were there I heard elephants trumpeting in the distance and saw them grazing on that plain below.

What an awesome 2nd to last weekend in Africa! My time here would not have been complete without an experience like this.


Goodbye Rwanda

20 Jul

America, I’m coming home.

That’s right, all you dear readers…the time has come for my adventure in Rwanda to come to a close.

I am experiencing a whole myriad of emotions! There are feelings of sadness for leaving the place that has stolen such a huge chunk of my heart. There are feelings of thankfulness for the time I have been given to grow, struggle, and flourish in such a beautiful country and people as Rwanda. And finally, there are feelings of readiness for the next chapter of my life to begin.

I cannot even begin to describe the gift this place has been to me. From getting my legs hugged by street kids, to having bachelorette parties in the rainforest, to swimming with dolphins in the Indian Ocean, to finally strapping a baby to my back…this has been such a ride. I got to paint with orphans, play glow in the dark Frisbee with the brightest kids in the country, visit newborn babies in the hospital, ride mututaus with hoards of sweaty, stinky people…oh and of course spend too many hours at the clinic to confront my intestinal friends.

This list could go on and on. I cannot believe it has been 6 months since I moved here. And at the same time, I feel like it has been 6 years.

But don’t stop tuning in yet…more adventures are to be had in my last 2 weeks here. This weekend, Betsy and I are throwing on our safari gear and heading to Queen Elizabeth National Park to swoon over baby elephants, hang out with my fave animals…giraffes, and be stalked by simbas. We are psyched. What a fun way to go out.

Then Tuesday, my parents get here for a last hoorah for me, first hoorah for them, here in Rwanda. Then we are off to Germany for a week to gorge on wienerschnitzel and cheese. Score. I can already tell that great, hilarious, embarrassing stories are to come in my last few weeks here.

So here’s to my Rwandaful life! It has been the adventure of a life time!

Sweet Anna

16 Jul

Last night my roommate and good friend Anna found out that her sweet dad went to be with Jesus. It has been a whirlwind of a 24 hours. Words cannot express the sorrow I have witnessed, the love that has been shown, and the comfort that can only come from one truth…that Anna’s sweet daddy is sitting with Jesus hearing him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

All of you dear friends and family of mine, pray for my precious friend Anna Reed as she suffers through the shock of this loss and the months and years to come of really grasping it all. We don’t know why Anna was 8,000 miles away from her family when this happened, but the Lord does. Anna is on a plane home right now…the flight is awful on the best of days…but she knows, and we know, that Jesus is comforting her in a way only He could. Pray for her on this flight. Pray for her family. And thank the Lord that grief is not eternal, death is not eternal…but LIFE is eternal. And that we find shelter in our sweet Jesus.

Bucket List #2…BOOM

14 Jul

Rwandan baby strapped to my back….CHECK.

For any of those who have been following my blog for the duration of my time in Rwanda, you know that I have a strange obsession with getting a baby strapped to my back like the Rwandan mommas. It is number 2 on my bucket list, just under meeting Paul Kagame…who I saw driving his car the other day btw. No big deal.

So today we were in the market, browsing around and I came upon a seamstress and her baby. She handed me her presh little fluffy haired babe, and I got the grandest of all ideas. Why not ask her if she will strap her baby to my back Rwandan style? So I asked. And she laughed at the crazy muzungu, and then threw that babe up on it’s white aunties back. I only had little Manzi strapped to me for about 5 minutes, but it was enough for me. So here is to Rwandan bucket list number 2…done, and done.




Manzi…couldn’t you just squeeze his cheeks.

Leaning over, letting the women strap him on!