In one month, I will begin a new journey. It will be the journey of an RPCV, and once again, I will try my best to go into it with the motto I learned at age 16 at Nazareth Farm: Expect a Miracle – but also, to expect the unexpected.
I recently took a 24-day vacation to America and Istanbul – to use up the last of my vacation days, to enjoy Indiana’s fall, and to attend one of my best friends’ weddings. Each one of my trips home began the same: happiness and a few tears at the airport. Tight hugs. Bringing my suitcases to the car, stretching out, taking a few deep breaths as my surroundings sink in.
I just flew half way around the world. There is room in this vehicle to stretch out.
There is the realization that I could have anything I want to eat, and that I will soon be at a table, together with family.
This trip home was a glimpse into my post-PCV world. It wasn’t hard this time. I belonged. I laughed with friends. I played with my nephew and niece. I cooked what I’d been craving, and I sat at the dinner table with my parents, grandmothers, siblings, and aunts and uncles. For the first time, I saw a dear friend walk down the aisle to her groom and I held in an ugly cry as best as I could, but let’s be real – when someone you love has something beautiful happen to her and you are lucky enough to be a witness to that, it deserves a few happy tears. Lisa’s wedding was the most fun I’d had with friends in quite awhile, wine glasses toasted and dancing like no one’s looking. Also, at the reception, I ate bacon wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese for the first time ever, and let’s just say that I’m gonna make an effort to have those be a regular occurrence in my life.
I’ve now been back in Rwanda for a month, and it’s sped by – I’ve been busy working on transition, training next year’s teachers, moving to Kigali (long story), recovering from an amoeba, and having fun.
Though I never met him, Abdul-Rahman [Peter] Kassig’s words and story have resonated with me – he was my age, a fellow Hoosier, and we both left our homes to bring good to others. His is a life far braver than mine and his now wide-spread quote reminds me of my reasons I came here in the first place, and how 38 months later, though I still get frustrated and angry, that I am here and should be present until my Close of Service:
“We each get one life and that’s it. We get one shot at this and we don’t get any do-overs, and for me, it was time to put up or shut up,” he said. “The way I saw it, I didn’t have a choice. This is what I was put here to do. I guess I am just a hopeless romantic, and I am an idealist, and I believe in hopeless causes.”
I came here because I knew I was supposed to and I didn’t question it. I came here because I wanted to learn and give my time, serve others and teach. I wanted to be out of my comfort zone, and I wanted to see and experience how the rest of the world lives their life. It’s not an easy world, but it’s reality, and now, with my time coming to a close, I’m thinking more and more about my first few months here, the challenges I had. It seems so long ago because, like most things when they’re new to you, can be scary, and as time passes, it becomes second nature. Now, in my Kigali house with my expat roommates and my proximity to good cheese, I’m straddling the world between Rwanda and USA. I’m full of so many feelings – feelings of gratitude for right now, excitement for the future but also dread for the ending, sadness for the goodbyes I will say. I know it is right and I am ready to return home, but I always knew I would return home. I don’t know the same about Rwanda – and that kind of goodbye – the finality and question of it – makes me even more nostalgic for a country I haven’t yet left.
The accomplishments I’ve made here are the same of all PCVs: I’ve learned the language, made friends, participated in cross culture, survived, and taught English. And as for something unique, I spent the last year coordinating a program that teaches practical English skills to law professionals. My accomplishments are simple, yet complex, for just surviving and existing in a village here requires some level of respect and understanding of how things are done. It requires an intense amount of isolation and loneliness. It requires constantly questioning yourself and reassessing your patience. I’ve had crazy, awesome, sad, and boring days. I lost weight and gained weight and lost weight again. I cooked and got sick and lived my life in an off kilter, very un-middle class American way for three years. I spoke with old ladies and people called me “Salah,” “Muzungu,” or “Umwari.” I stood up to harassers and gained advocates and was told to “kwihangane” about a million times, for I was frustrated and sick and the electricity went out and the bus was late and I tripped and a dog attacked me and men touched me and said things and generally, I was upset but was told “KWIHANGANE” because it is true – it goes away and life goes on and someday you will forget that bad thing that happened but in its place, you will remember that feeling a person gave you when you were in need, and they held your hand or were just a friend. The only thing I did to deserve any of it was to be together with them and say a few jumbled grammatically incorrect words in Kinyarwanda. And now, after all that, my contract is up in one month.
What do I have to show for it?
I’ve felt at home in a place that was once foreign.
I have passion for helping problems of which I once didn’t know or quite grasp the complexity.
I better understand people and the fears they may have in a foreign nation. Understanding that will help me in the future to treat others with the dignity they deserve and to ‘pay forward’ the patience so many Rwandans have given me.
I better know my limits.
I better know what makes me happy.
The people I’ve developed relationships with have taught me that there are universal truths among all people and that sometimes friendships can be based off of the most basic communication. I used to think that “real” friendships had to be deep in an understanding of each other, but I now think that’s unique and quite the blessing when it happens. Rather, friendship can have that, but usually it is based off of something much more basic than that – something shared, togetherness, maybe a joke, but always caring and always, always —most importantly—how that person makes you feel.
A village called Mulindi wa Nasho and its people have a better understanding of Americans because I shared my life with them. I like to think I earned their trust, which then helps my replacement do the amazing projects he’s working on.
And now, I am here in ILPD’s Kigali office, and I have one month. A month with goodbyes, a special PCV-expat Thanksgiving, one more moto ride to and from Nasho, and hopefully, with a few more chapattis and plates of ibitoke.
Here is a photo essay of the last 3 years, 2 months, and 3 days: