month 38.

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:

The Karama Crew! This is a part of Ed3, wayyy back during PST.

The Karama Crew! This is a part of Ed3, wayyy back during PST. Fall 2011.

My host sister's Julienne and Diane.

My host sister’s Julienne and Diane. Fall 2011.

A classic meal cooked by my host sisters: fried potatoes, peanut sauce, and rice. They cooked using firewood.

A classic meal cooked by my host sisters: fried potatoes, peanut sauce, and rice. They cooked using firewood. Fall 2011.

Ginger teaching model school!

Ginger teaching model school! Fall 2011.

Ed 3 Swear-In. Don't we look smart?!

Ed 3 Swear-In. Don’t we look smart?! 15 December 2011.

One weekend my first year, I visited Lyla, and she made avocado rolls. It was a good classy time.

One weekend my first year, I visited Lyla, and she made avocado rolls. It was a good classy time. Spring 2012.

Together with Betty at a teacher's meeting at GS Rugoma, the secondary school I taught at for two years.

Together with Betty at a teacher’s meeting at GS Rugoma, the secondary school I taught at for two years. Spring 2012.

Mwami. We are walking to the lake for a school trip.

Mwami. We are walking to the lake for a school trip. July 2012.

Team builders at GLOW camp.

Team builders at GLOW camp. July 2012.

My stoop life, washing dishes.

My stoop life, washing dishes. August 2012.

A wonderful weekend in Nasho with Laura!

A wonderful weekend in Nasho with Laura! August 2012.

A very pregnant Emeline and Samuel in front of their work-in-progress home.

A very pregnant Emeline and Samuel in front of their work-in-progress home. July 2012.

Even though it's grainy, this is one of my favorite photos from my life in Nasho.

Even though it’s grainy, this is one of my favorite photos from my life in Nasho. July 2012.

The teachers hanging out, watching the students compete in a football match.

The teachers hanging out, watching the students compete in a football match. July 2012.

The girls after winning their football match against the "rival" school.

The girls after winning their football match against the “rival” school. July 2012.

Some of my students doing group work.

Some of my students doing group work. 3rd Term, 2012.

Vacation in Zanzibar. August 2012.

Vacation in Zanzibar. August 2012.

Zanzibar. August 2012.

Zanzibar. August 2012.

Visiting Francine and her family, post surgery. Spring 2013.

Visiting Francine and her family, post cleft lip surgery. Spring 2013.

There are always cows.

There are always cows.

Jinja Uganda, on the Nile. April 2013.

Jinja Uganda, on the Nile. April 2013.

Bungee Jumping, April 2013.

Bungee Jumping, April 2013.

I went to the Congo border with Ginger and Michael. Spring 2013.

I went to the Congo border with Ginger and Michael. Spring 2013.

With Ginger in Gisenyi. Spring 2012.

With Ginger in Gisenyi. Spring 2013.

My Father came to Rwanda! July 2013.

My Father came to Rwanda! July 2013.

We went to the border with Tanzania. July 2013.

We went to the border with Tanzania. July 2013.

We ate desserts in Kigali. July 2013.

We ate desserts in Kigali. July 2013.

We climbed up up up into the mountains with Ginger...

We climbed up up up into the mountains with Ginger…

...to see some gorillas. July 2013.

…to see some gorillas. July 2013.

End of the term program. July 2013.

End of the term program. July 2013.

End of the term program. July 2013.

End of the term program. July 2013.

Jeanne gave my family some presents.

Jeanne gave my family some presents.

My girls at 2013 GLOW camp. Rugoma pride.

My girls at 2013 GLOW camp. Rugoma pride.

With Chantal. July 2013.

With Chantal. July 2013.

Senior 3 Celebration. Ruth looking regal.

Senior 3 Celebration. Ruth looking regal.

My goodbye party.

My goodbye party.

The moto guys that took me places.

The moto guys that took me places.

The village that took me in.

The village that took me in.

COS Dinner with Ed3 Ladies. November 2013.

COS Dinner with Ed3 Ladies. November 2013.

Hello Nyanza.

Hello Nyanza.

Domitille got married!!!

Domitille got married!!! January 2014.

Lake Kivu. May 2014.

Kibuye, Lake Kivu. May 2014.

My best guy friends. March 2014.

My best guy friends. March 2014.

Visiting Ian in Kirehe.

Visiting Ian in Kirehe.

Heather was back in town. June 2014.

Heather was back in town. June 2014.

I met a man. :-) June 2014.

I met a man. :-) June 2014.

Nyungwe. June 2014.

Nyungwe. June 2014.

Kibeho. August 2014.

Kibeho. August 2014.

Visiting with Francine in Nasho. August 2014.

Visiting with Francine in Nasho. August 2014.

The certificate earners of the ELT-JCS 2014 Program! September 2014

The certificate earners of the ELT-JCS 2014 Program! September 2014

Emeline and Angel, my Kigali ladies. September 2014.

Emeline and Angel, my Kigali ladies. September 2014.

Istanbul, Turkey. October 2014.

Istanbul, Turkey. October 2014.

Marine Ball. November 2014.

Marine Ball. November 2014.

my rwandan home.

As it was, I lived far, in the middle of nowhere, in this large strange village that, to some people, was slowly becoming a town. 

As it is, I live just under two hours away from the capital, on a paved road, in a city that, to some people, is a village.

The people of Nyanza and Nasho are incredibly different.

In Nasho, I was taken in when I didn’t deserve it, people learned my name quickly and were happy to work with me. People who didn’t know me were told about me. I didn’t speak their language fluently, but the people who had the patience to understand and the willingness to mime became my friends. I was given more in love and kindness than I deserved. Everyone learned much about me – in that I loved Jeanne’s capati, eggs, and my fanta of choice was coke. 

I became a part of many families there. Samuel, Emelyne, and their boys made me their “sister” and “aunt” – we cooked together, watched movies and music videos together. We played and talked about our families. When I was upset, Emelyne, who knows zero English, told me things straight, in simple words, so that I would understand. “Go take a shower, feel the water, rest, and when you wake up tomorrow, it will be new.” At school, I was sister to my male coworkers and big sister to my girls. We joked and laughed together. We talked real and I did my best to be a good role model and to encourage. In the community, I had Jeanne and a myriad of characters that were in my life and we joked over simple things and phrases. We shared culture and dance. We mimed. A lot. Living in Nasho was simple, dirty, difficult, and wonderful. I felt isolated, but I had friends whose smiles could always make my day a little better. I had people I could count on to genuinely care about my day and my family. I regularly shared news about my family, and when my sister gave birth to a baby girl and when my dad visited, it was a BIG DEAL. People showed their happiness and opened up to me. I didn’t leave a lot of physical things in Nasho – I never finished a grant or built a building. Nasho, it seems, has been under construction for some time. People tearing down and building and painting and expanding. I couldn’t think of doing something that someone else wasn’t already doing. If anything, I left ideas in my students’ minds. I left love and kindness and friendship. I left an image of what one young American is actually like, and how that may be quite different from what they expected, from the many stereotypes that linger online, in stories, in music videos, and on TV. 

In Nyanza, few people know me. My coworkers, the post office workers, security guards, banana shopkeeper, and few (very few) of the market ladies know of me. Less actually know my name. I only speak Kinyarwanda when I go to the market. Most people greet me in French, some even call me “Madame,” which I find awkward. Perhaps they are just trying to give me respect, but I’m not married, not French, and I don’t want to be old enough that due to my lack of marriage, I earn that title as if I’m an old maid. Not many people know much about me here, and as of late, I’ve been thinking about my unique challenges here. I am over half way though my time living here, and so why am I so far behind in the community integration aspect of my job here than I ever was in Nasho?

I’m over it. I already spent two years in a village, and I did my job well, I think. Just before the two-year mark, I hit this stride in Rwanda that I hadn’t felt before. It was so simple to me then, just as it is now, that I’m living here. It wasn’t a big deal to me anymore. I don’t put pressure on myself to achieve this unattainable goal of being completely integrated. 

I have other things to worry about, and my goals are different. I made a goal for myself at the beginning of this year to be healthier and happier. Everyday, I wake up at about 5:30, I do an hour of sport, I get ready for work, I’m at work 8-5ish, I come home or go to the market or do random errands, I cook dinner, and I’m usually in bed by 8:30. When I’m in Kigali, I walk almost everywhere, and I only take the bus if I’m on a tight schedule. Since Christmas, I have lost 19 pounds, along with 5 inches off my waist. I feel healthier and better. I look healthier and better. When I’m at work, I’m busy. I’m either doing actual work-work and/or I’m studying for the LSAT. I’m lucky that my work is lax enough that I can study during work time. I’m busy with my work, and when I have free time, I’m more focused on my post-PC goals. People say you should live in the now, and my now is preparation for my future. 

I have my kind of fun. When I’m in Kigali and have completed my work-related tasks, I have fun with the people I care about and want to spend time with. I watch the movies and TV shows I want to when I want to chill. I’ve chosen to listen to music on my iPod during my workouts instead of being forced to hear every little annoying and harassing word directed at me.

The people in Nyanza aren’t very welcoming, and most of them are quite rude, and so I don’t really care to waste my time in getting to know them. My coworkers are, for the most part, nice. But they are city people, many of whom grew up in Kigali, and they see Nyanza as a small place, small enough to call a village. It makes me laugh that some of them haven’t wandered off the main road long enough to have had experienced a long moto ride or a terrible experience in a twege. It’s like they’re Rwandan but haven’t seen rural Rwanda…it’s the equivalent of someone living in NYC or Chicago who hasn’t been on a road trip or seen a stalk of corn. Or who is ignorant enough to think Indiana is just corn field after corn field without considering the possibility that Indiana has an incredible music scene and jazz talent, has writers and inventors, has history and apple orchards, has the farmers that grow their food. 

The people in Nyanza, I’m pretty sure, think I’m a tourist. They treat me like I’m coming through for a day, only there to see the Kings Palace and Art Gallery. 

And so, this has been my life this year, for the most part. Living in a place like this, that yes, has conveniences like the main road, fluent English-speaking coworkers, and access to yogurt, but also that yes, doesn’t really know me. I frequently go to Kigali to see my friends. I frequently spend my evenings alone, but that’s not a sad thing – I like being alone, but it just so happens to be my only option, given my situation. My goal of being a lawyer doesn’t meld well with spending my evenings at a bar with my coworkers playing pool. I don’t have the time to make new friends and make the relationship genuine and real and deep like I did in Nasho.

As of late, I’ve been missing Nasho quite a bit. I’m able to talk with Mwami and Samuel on Facebook, but I wanted to greet and hug and laugh with my friends, those that went out of their way so many times to help me in any given situation.

I was going to visit Nasho in April, but that didn’t happen when I was stuck in the PC infirmary for three weeks. And so, my replacement and I organized another time, this last weekend. I informed Samuel and Mwami and told them to spread the news. The news spread indeed.

I first traveled to Kabarondo, where I visited Domitille. We shared fanta, and I met her daughter, Gisele. We looked through her wedding photo album, and she showed me her new shop, a distribution shop of sorts, where she sells sugar, oil, soap, and lotion. I continued to Nasho by moto, and as we entered Nasho, I started cracking up laughing so much so that the moto driver stopped to ask what the problem was. There was no problem, but I had just seen that the old market-butchery area (that had never been used during my two years there) had been torn down, and a gas station was standing in its place. All weekend, I saw these changes – new buildings, new paint, new neighbors… After having told the driver to drop me in the center, by Jeanne’s shop, I hopped off the moto, and popped my head into Jeanne’s shop, where Jeanne was not but her niece (and my former student) Angelique was. Angelique screamed and her eyes teared up as she hugged me tight. She immediately said, “Let’s go!” and she escorted me to Jeanne’s home, where we sat, shared pictures, drank fanta, caught up, and hugged quite a bit. 

The whole weekend was like that. Me, walking around, people greeting me, shaking my hands, asking me about Nyanza, me sharing pictures with them, and everyone saying over and over, “We are so happy to see you.” I visited, drank 6 too many fantas, hugged, and smiled at an incredible amount of people. Some knew I was coming, and others were surprised. Everyone asked about my parents. Everyone was so sweet. No one called me muzungu, except for the children, who then heard me say, “That’s not my name!” and then they said, “Oh! It’s Sarah!” I visited with Mwami, and I met his new son Bennet Brandon. We shared good conversation in English, and we joked with his daughter, Arabella.

I stayed in my old house with my replacement, sleeping on my old couch. I ate with Samuel and Emelyne while watching music videos. We made plans to meet up in Kigali sometime, as Samuel’s new shop is there, and in general…

I felt at home.

my leg.

I was attacked by a dog nearly eight weeks ago.

Never before had I suffered a serious injury – no broken bones, stitches, hospital stay…I’ve never even had a cavity – but now I can say that I’ve experienced, endured, and recovered from a dog attack that left a chunk of my lower front leg missing, presumably eaten by the dog, whom I like to refer to as Demon Dog.

This happened on the night of 3 April, a Thursday. I was returning to my friend’s house in Kigali and the dog, owned by my friend’s landlady, went crazy on me just inside the compound gate. I fell to the ground, into the fetal position. My friend who was right there, grabbed the dog so that I was able to run into his house. I looked down and was immediately in a panic, as I realized a chunk of my leg was missing. My friend went into action mode, getting ice and a towel to put pressure. He acted as calmly as possible as we waited for the Peace Corps doctor to arrive.

The doctor arrived and took me to the Peace Corps Medical Unit (Peace Corps owns a compound with two large houses. The Medical Unit is essentially a floor in one of those houses.). He stayed with me until about 5 AM that morning. He completely flushed out the wound, cleaned it with iodine, and dressed the wound, along with giving me a rabies shot and a very thick, painful antibiotic shot, which I felt for about a week after.

For 19 days, I stayed in the Peace Corps Infirmary. For most of those days, I wasn’t allowed to leave the Peace Corps Compound and even the infirmary, for fear of exacerbating possible swelling and because even a slight bump on that part of my leg could have interfered with the healing process. To get food, the doctors sent a Peace Corps driver out every day to pick me up whatever I wanted. Pizza. Burritos. Mr Chips. Yogurt. Raman…whatever. It became very expensive, and I stressed about funds. Because I wasn’t allowed to move around much, I wasn’t that hungry. I ate two meals a day.

The first few days were fine, but I quickly became antsy, annoyed, angry, and impatient about my situation. For the first time in about a year, I reached a low-low of my Peace Corps service. The only thing that kept me from going completely insane was having visitors.

After about 10 or 11 days, I was allowed to leave the compound (but only if I had private transport…no buses) to go to a restaurant or hang out with friends and watch a movie.

I’m pretty sure that I was able to leave on day 19 because the doctors could see that my mental well being was at an all time low, and that I needed to be let out of my “prison,” what I called the infirmary. They also made the decision based on the fact that I hadn’t gotten any infection and was able to clean the wound on my own. I just had to agree to come to the Medical Unit once or twice a week for them to do a thorough cleaning.

I want to make it clear to all future PCVs and to all PC parents out there: the medical care the PC doctors gave me was superb. They really took care of me, and were most likely a bit TOO cautious. 

Staying in the infirmary wouldn’t have been SO BAD except for my specific circumstances. I was really frustrated that I couldn’t WORK. You see, that weekend, I was planning to visit my old village (that obviously didn’t happen), so I didn’t bring my computer, so I didn’t have access to my work files, my practice LSATs, or any of my books. I had packed the minimum. I ran out of my shampoo, even. 

This whole experience has me rethinking my relationship with dogs and with animals in general. It is very strange that it is American culture to allow animals of another species into our homes and lives, that we sleep in the same bed with and cuddle these animals as if they’re our babies. Even if we know an animal, we cannot know what it’s thinking. This Demon Dog knew me. I had been in that compound many times, petting it. It knew me and knew that I visited my friend there many, many times, so why, on that one random night, did it decide to bite a chunk out of my leg? I can’t answer that question – no one can – and because of that, I will be hesitant to trust animals, especially dogs. I recognize that American dogs are very different from Rwandan dogs in that Rwandans don’t typically train their dogs or think of them in the same way that Americans think of their dogs. Still, dogs are animals. They can randomly go in an animalistic attack mode, and as obvious as this is, I’ll still state it – I never want to experience this again. And so, when I return to America and if I visit you (and you have a dog), don’t be surprised if I ask you to lock your dog in a room. I’ll appreciate your understanding.

As it is now, the wound has closed. The two sides have come together, albeit uneven, so I have a depression in my leg. When I feel crappy about my wound (as it was) or about my scar and depression (and how it will look for the rest of my life), I remind myself that it could have been much worse – apparently, a lot of dogs bite people on the face and neck. I am thankful that my friend was there to grab the Demon Dog before it did anymore damage.

If you click on “Continue Reading,” you will see graphic images of my wound. That’s a warning. It’s pretty gross.

Continue reading

in defense of America.

My family is from the Midwest. Before my generation, hardly anyone in my family lived outside of Southern Illinois or Indiana (except my mother’s few years stint in Louisiana when she was a girl). I take a lot of pride in knowing that my grandfather received an 8th grade education, yet my father and most of his brothers graduated from college and continued past – two becoming doctors, one a dentist, one an accountant, and the last worked his way up the ladder in a steel company and is now the owner. These are leaps of achievements to make in just one generation.

We are common Americans. We’ve lived our lives and tried to do our best. I am an outlier in my family, having lived in Rwanda for 29 months.

I knew that I was headed to Peace Corps. I decided to do it right after college because I knew I’d have nothing holding me back. It was timing. Serving in the Peace Corps doesn’t make me your average American. I can detect distinct forks in my life’s road that would have put me in a very different place today. But where I am today does not mean I don’t identify with Midwest, USA.

To some of you back home, the fact that I am here probably surprises you, shocks you, or makes you jealous. I’m aware of that. I’m jealous of my friends working in India. I’m jealous of one of my distant friends for being a missionary in Philippines (hello, proximity to Bali!). I’m jealous of anyone on a beach. I’m jealous of all my friends who are married because, hell, I don’t even have a boyfriend (nor am I dating) and I’m really lonely. But ABOVE ALL, I am so proud of my friends. I’m proud of the leaps and bounds you’ve made. I’m proud of the accomplishments and the knowledge and the life experiences my high school friends, college friends, siblings, cousins, and so on have made. I am lucky to know so many solid, good hearted, goal-oriented people.

To anyone who is jealous of PCVs: Every person has their own story. Don’t doubt what your goals are just because they’re not mine and mine aren’t yours. Living here sucks sometimes.

Some people back home might look at my life and my fellow PCV’s lives and say, “That’s an adventure!” “Ah, you must love traveling!” – something that implies we are living fluidly in many places around all of Africa or the world. The very opposite is true. We live in small places. I lived in a village for two years, where the most exciting thing to do was to eat a hot pancake-like capati with my friend Jen or to dance like a cow with my students for a few hours. Now, I live in a town that is, in many ways, similar to the town my father and his brothers grew up in. There is a large market and a few restaurants. There are two hotels and a pool. There is a post office. I can buy things like yogurt, powdered milk, peanut butter, and nice oil without having to trek it on a moto just to get it home. And my house has a toilet.

Sometimes, especially at the beginning of my service, an everyday conversation was exhausting, having to think about the cultural mess of things with implications and lies, unspoken hidden meanings. I would sit alone in my room, wondering if I would have any real, true friends here, wondering if I would be happy.

And now, 29 months later, I view my life here as being very simple. I take pleasure in everyday things like seeing a nice view, laughing with a coworker over a universal joke, or overhearing and understanding bits of conversation in Kinyarwanda.

I recently went back home to Indiana for the holidays, and I didn’t have the easiest time. I enjoyed it – seeing my family and friends, meeting my niece, eating all the things, and sharing a few bottles of wine with my brother and sister-in-law by the fire. Those things were wonderful, but I found myself at a loss as to what to say. Or do. Maybe because there was too much to say and do.

I wrote about the problems I had in a recent blog post. For weeks after coming back to Rwanda, I still felt it. This crazy America out there. I was and am focused and busy with my job here, but fears of someday returning to America would pop up in my mind…How will I ever fit in there again?

I’m sure you all have experienced this – something happens and affects you. You become opinionated about it, sometimes obsessive. And then, some time later, another thing happens that forces you to reconsider, relax, and center yourself.

And just that happened.

I was spending so much time thinking about Crazy America, that I wasn’t recognizing it as Crazy Awesome America.

I had a bad week, everything just kind of fell into a mess. I had a mild security problem, I was busy with work, and I got a stubborn cold. And during all this, I met some folks from the UK.

During my time in Rwanda, I’ve met a lot of foreigners – South Africans, Norwegians, Italians, Dutch…

Many of the Europeans I’ve met have been nice and open. They’re curious about the village; they’re interested in the average PCV’s experience. Some, though, talk as if they’re playing a game and they’re out to win a contest.

They ask you where you’ve been. They ask you what you’ve done in those places. Normal expat/traveler conversation.

They might ask you the number of how many countries you’ve visited. And then specify, “Oh, well, how many in Africa?”

And then the inevitable, “OH! I’ve been to x number of countries!”

Their number is inevitably higher than yours.

After several conversation twists, they bring up America.

One Dutch guy completely changed the vibe during a pleasant conversation by interrupting and turning to me and my fellow PCVs, asking, “So, are you proud of being American? Why?”

As if we couldn’t possibly be.

The English I recently met began our afternoon in similar ways, asking about what I was doing here and so on. I asked them what they were doing here while visiting. The usual tourist stuff, basically.

We spent the afternoon and evening together. We had a relatively good time, but at a certain point, when the subject of America came up, I felt my inner Midwest self come out.

I don’t want to throw these specific English under the bus because I know their attitudes of Americans are not unique; many Europeans share a trait called pomposity.

In short, they implied on more than one occasion that I, being a cultured American, must feel ashamed for being American. They generalized Americans as not owning passports, only visiting places in North America, and use the word uncultured more than once to describe the American People.

I felt disrespected because they said these things, disrespecting all common Americans just because they haven’t filled the English’s country quota, but I was also thrown off by their rudeness. They trashed my nation in front me of, interrupted me after asking me a question, not having the patience to actually listen to my answer.

And all of this happened after and during an afternoon and evening of them complaining. About electricity going out. About the hot water not working. About the slow service at the restaurant. About the bad road on their one kilometer journey off the paved road. I held my tongue when they talked about having a picnic. Outside. In Rwanda. Near a village.

I held my tongue, but I wanted to say, “That’s incredibly disrespectful and insensitive.”

Because it is. Here.

But they don’t know that. Because they’re tourists.

I don’t consider myself a tourist in Rwanda. This isn’t vacation. This is where I live and have made a home. I have neighbors and a job. The thing is, I don’t feel cultured for living in Rwanda. I feel like Rwanda is a part of me, that I’ll never be able to remove it and that, at this point, it is a part of my lineage.

I feel fortunate to have been given the Peace Corps training I did, to learn the language and about the culture. Knowing the language makes it so much easier to catch social cues, which in turn help you to respect the culture.

I think it is so incredibly fulfilling to really know a place. To form real relationships and togetherness with people of that place. It makes my life more satisfying than saying, “I’ve been to x number of countries. What about you? …Oh, I see you’re uncultured.”

I’ve learned during my time here that I don’t really like being a tourist. I enjoyed Zanzibar because it is a freakin’ paradise. I enjoyed Jinja, Uganda because of the time I spent on The Nile. I didn’t like Kampala so much. When I think about the ideal vacation, I picture somewhere relaxing with a good drink and book. I picture being with my family and friends, enjoying sites and eating good food. I picture Yachats, Oregon and St Patrick’s Day 2011. What I don’t like about being is a tourist is this: not knowing where things are and not knowing how to get to places. Having spent a lot of time in both the village and in Kigali, I can tell you that these places are very different from each other. If I were a tourist in Kigali, Rwanda, here on business or to see the mountain gorillas, I would see Clean Rwanda. I would eat at the fancy restaurants and would probably have brunch at The Mille Colline. I most likely wouldn’t eat boiled plantains or beans and rice. Having spent so much time in the village, I don’t view Kigali as real Rwanda. This year, I go to Kigali for work, but while there, I treat it almost like a refuge, a place to go to when I want a burrito.

And so, I don’t think the number of countries a person visits defines how cultured that person is, and I don’t think being pompous about it gets you anywhere.

She, one of the English, made a good point in saying, “Seeing the poverty – seeing it does something to you. It’s good to know about how these people live.”

No one can argue with that. I respect her for voicing that. I respect her for getting something out of her experiences here in Rwanda and in other nations.

But.

You could say that – x does something to you – about almost any other experience in the world.

People have different interests. We should, as a People, respect those interests and understand that every person has limits.

My Midwest self is very proud of being an American. I feel lucky for having been raised in a place that puts a lot of concern in protecting our community: how we treat each other, what we can do to progress our nation, what we can do to help other nations. In many ways, I think community exists in America through public service, through public interest. I am proud of the way we come together in times of crises, whether it is through personal prayer, volunteer work, getting a bill signed, or serving our country.

Each country and culture has different priorities. In America, it’s progress and time management. In Rwanda, it’s patience and unity. No matter the country, individual people have financial and physical limitations that can hold them back from doing a variety of things. But none of those limitations takes anything away from the genuine essence of an individual’s life experience.

No, I haven’t really been to Europe (except for a lucky day in Brussels), but I have been in most regions in USA. No, I didn’t study abroad, but I did volunteer for one week in Appalachia with Nazareth Farm, working and talking with some of the poorest in our nation. No, I haven’t seen the pyramids in Egypt, but I have road tripped with a best friend and got lost. A few times. No, I haven’t couch surfed, but I have enjoyed Christmases with both of my elder siblings’ in-laws, learning about each family’s traditions. No, I don’t know French, but I sometimes dream in Kinyarwanda. No, I haven’t done a lot of things, but I’m living my life the way it’s coming to me, and I don’t feel left out of the human experience.

Neither should you.

“They believe, and I believe, that here in America, our success should depend not on accident of birth, but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams.”

“America has never come easy. Our freedom, our democracy has never been easy. Sometimes we stumble, we make mistakes, we get frustrated, we get discouraged, but for more than 200 years, we have put those things aside, and placed our collective shoulder to the wheel of progress. To create and build and expand the possibilities of the individual achievement.”

-President Barack Obama, State of The Union 2014

first week in Nyanza.

I left America with a lot on my mind. The vacation went by quickly and slowly at the same time. I was going back to Rwanda with a new job and goals to conquer. Failure is my biggest fear.

Anxiety mixed with the worst jet-lag I’ve ever had has given me a week of sleeplessness, going to bed early, waking up early in the dark and worrying…all that kind of bad stuff that just leads to more anxiousness in the mind when you’re busy thinking, “WHY CAN’T I JUST FALL ASLEEP?”

So that happens. At night. But luckily, my days have been productive.

I landed Sunday in Kigali. By noon on Monday, I was settled into my new house. Katie (the PCV I’m replacing) gave me all her files. Tuesday was my first real day on the job. I went through the files, familiarized myself with the way emails, budgets, work orders, etc were formatted and sent. Wednesday was New Years Day, and therefore, a holiday. I went to Kigali to buy a new hot plate and other odds and ends. I enjoyed being able to travel TO KIGALI and BACK in one day :-). I spent Thursday working on the budget, and I spent Friday working on the Teacher’s Manual.

During the evenings, I organized my clothes in my armoire (Thank you, ILPD for giving me furniture!), organized my food in my trunk, and got used to having a bathroom (with a toilet!) in my Rwanda House. By Saturday, I had finished decorating, hanging up my tapestries and imigongo (cow poo art).

I didn’t do anything special for the new year, but I did spend several hours calling and texting my friends in Nasho. I received these lovely texts in response:

“Thank you and to you too, I wish you a happy new year. We miss you so much.”
-Samuel, my old landlord

“Days and years pass away and disappear, but friends like you will always be treasured. Happy new year 2014 to you, your family and your beloved ones.”
-Steven, one of my old co-workers

“I wish you to have NEW year. NEW hopes. NEW plans. NEW efforts. NEW successes. NEW feelings in Nyanza and HAPPY NEW YEAR 2014.”
-Jean Damascene, my old headmaster

“Sarah I am very happy, God BLESS YOU.”
-Angel, one of my Kigali friends

“Thank you, Happy new year and long time, how are parents? Tell me, how are you? We miss you, when you will come at Nasho? be blessed.”
-Jen, my capati makin friend

“Special card for you:
**A picture of a heart**

Happy new year!”
-Eugene, one of my old co-workers

“You too, I’m greeting them for you, we are celebrating this new year at our grandfather. don’t forget the 18th jan 2014″
-Domitille, reminding me of her WEDDING!

“Peace from God be with you! Happy new year!”
-Revelien, one of my old co-workers

“Happy New Year 2014 may God will be with you all times.”
-Moses, one of the bus drivers Nasho to Kabarondo

I also called/received calls from some students and other coworkers.

Aren’t those nice messages to receive? So nice. Love my friends.

So, yes, my days have been productive. I’m trying to create a healthy routine for myself this year. Less TV. More work. More activity. I’ve been waking up at 6, preparing myself for a goal that I won’t write here because I don’t wanna jinx myself (ah, the mystery).

Nyanza has been good to me so far – even though I moved here a week ago, people already know my name, the market ladies have already affectionately given me discounts, and I found one in particular who said she has “apples everyday” – yep, she and I are gonna be friends. My co-workers seem friendly enough, but there are so many, it’s gonna take me a while to learn all their names!

I feel positive about my future here; I know I’ve made the right decision, though some may disagree. And to hold my heart at ease, and to show them where my mindset is, perhaps these quotes can better explain:

“Ever since I was a child I have had this instinctive urge for expansion and growth. To me, the function and duty of a quality human being is the sincere and honest development of one’s potential.”
-Bruce Lee

“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
-Steve Jobs

“I will not cause pain without something new to be born.”
-Isaiah 66:9

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
-Galatians 6:9

“You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.”
-Oprah

“Be daring. Be different. Be impractical. Be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.”
-Cecil Beaton

“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”
-Sigmund Freud

Here’s to 2014!

27 months in…america vaca #2.

I’ve been back in Rwanda for a week now, and I’ve been procrastinating this blog entry. Ever since I arrived in America, I’ve been wondering what I would write because, well, a trip to America after experiencing 27 months in the developing world warrants…something. Some insight. Some reflection. Some stories. And as I’m writing this now, I don’t yet quite know what I will write…

I arrived at the Indianapolis International Airport the afternoon before Thanksgiving. I saw my family and friends waiting for me…and also a camera guy…? I tried my best to ignore the camera in my face as I hugged my family for the first time in 11 months. After I greeted everyone, a newsperson from some Indianapolis news channel introduced herself and asked if maybe in a few minutes I’d like to answer some questions. I was eager to be with just my family and friends, but the “I’M IN AMERICA – I’LL DO ANYTHING” elation gave her a friendly, “Yes.” However, after some minutes of brewing over the fact that I hadn’t bathed in over a day, had been traveling for 23 hours-ish, and pondering over what kinds of questions she might ask me and what my answers would be…”You’ve just returned from the Peace Corps! Are you happy to be in America?” “YES! I AM HAPPY TO BE IN A PLACE WITH PLENTIFUL CHEESE AND GOOD CHOCOLATE.”…yeah, that would be a little embarrassing. So I whispered to my family before she could catch me, “Let’s go, GRAB EVERYTHING, let’s go.”

It’s like, WELCOME TO AMERICA YOU DON’T HAVE TWITTER OH LET THIS CAMERA MAN DOCUMENT YOUR RETURN TO THE DEVELOPED WORLD AND LET’S MAKE YOU FEEL A LIL OVERWHELMED.

Thanks, America.

I don’t wanna give you a play-by-play of my vacation because that would be boring. I saw family and friends. I shopped in stores and online, finding office-y clothes (in hand-washable friendly fabrics) for my new job, ate a lot of cheese-chicken-basil-spinach-pesto-sundried tomatoes-cookies-pizza-pie-cereal-fruit-ice cream-bagels-CHEESE, and watched annoying TV. I watched the “news” for awhile, but then stopped watching the news because they weren’t reporting on the Central African Republic. I guess the American public has more interest in speculating whether or not Hilary Clinton will run in 2016 on 24/7 news. Um. There are other things happening in the world RIGHT NOW. And I don’t care about all of your gift suggestions, Today Show, especially when the young woman claims that without this handy iPhone charger thing, you’ll inevitability experience “THE WORST THING EVER” when your battery signal goes red. “Yes!” I said to my mom, “There’s NOTHING WORSE than when my phone battery dies…it’s not like a genocide is brewing right now, anyway…” YEAH.

Things like that in our media and the rudeness I encountered with strangers led me to think over and over again…”America is a strange land.” I held my tongue a number of times, when I wanted to point out the blatant un-nicery I witnessed.

That’s not to say I wasn’t rude either…more than several times I had to stop and think when I began to do or say something that would be considered rude in American culture but perfectly normal, even encouraged in Rwandan culture.

About a week and a half into my visit, I went to Walmart and bought goods I wanted to bring back with me to Rwanda. Triscuits. Pesto mix. Oreos. Latte mix. Lemonade mix. Shampoo. Face Masks. Razors. I didn’t find this experience daunting, but instead I found some things laughable. Like the number of FLAVORS of Triscuits. All I could do was look at the spectacle in the aisle and laugh a little. I was happy to get the shopping outta the way. I was happy to look at my full suitcase and think, “I’m going back.”

It took me just 4 days to miss Rwanda.

Last year when I came home for Christmas, I didn’t think about Rwanda at all. Well, if I did, it was in a sentence kinda like this, “Yeah…I’m going back. *shrug*” I immersed myself in the people and the food and I loved it all. I loved being in America, and in many ways, I dreaded being in Rwanda again, in my village, all alone again, without…everyone I loved the most.

I’m not gonna lie, I was a little concerned I’d have a similar experience this year. That, especially because I’ve finished my initial contract with Peace Corps and I made the choice to extend, that I WOULDN’T WANT TO GO BACK AND DID I MAKE THE WRONG DECISION?!?!?!?!?!?!

Like I said, it took me 4 days to miss Rwanda.

I closed my eyes while I was lying in my comfy bed, and I imagined the hills, the dirt roads, the smiling mamas, and the bananas. I imagined my students greeting me and dancing the cow dance. I imagined Nasho and I imagined Nyanza, my new home with some modern comforts (like a toilet). I thought about the new experiences I was about to have, the professional skills, the resume, the time to study for the LSAT without the business of TVs and traffic distracting me. I thought about the ability to visit Nasho and my old landlords.

Throughout my time in America, I received Facebook messages from Samuel (my old landlord) and Mwami (my old counterpart), wishing me safe travels, a Merry Christmas, a request from them for me to greet my father for them. They told me they missed me. And I missed them.

Don’t get me wrong, I love America. I loved being able to see my closest friends, to drink coffee with them, to share meals with them, to talk about everyday things with them. I feel real with my best girlfriends in ways that I don’t feel with anyone else, and it’s because in so many ways, we are soul-mates and we love each other so much. I loved seeing my family (this Christmas was the first time we’d all been together since Matthew’s wedding!). Seeing the changes in Landon and Henry were so funny. Their personalities came out more and more everyday I saw them. Landon is such a helpful child, he’s always wanting to have a job (giving everyone their shoes and coats before leaving, helping me make chocolate crinkles!). He loves his sister and is a good, sweet boy to his parents. Henry is ALWAYS smiling. He looks around, taking everyone in, absorbing actions and sounds. He loves to be watched. He loves to laugh. Audrey, well, I met her for the first time, and she wasn’t SUPER keen on letting me hold her, but I did get a few moments in. She’s her mommy’s girl, through and through. She loves to move around, leaving many of us to believe she’s going to be a dancer.

So. I love America. But…

I felt uncomfortable in America the majority of the time I was there. Uncomfortable in a way I didn’t experience last year. During my last visit, I felt “like myself” after 15 months in being in a strange place I didn’t always like. This visit, I felt: I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know what to think. I felt out of place. It’s like someone told me I was a doctor and I look down and see the scrubs and think, “What am I doing here?!?!?!?!” One day, I was in my village, making peanut sauce. Three days later, I was in America eating at Steak n Shake and I was surrounded by loud white people.

Feeling this uncomfortable, feeling so out of place was actually kind of a relief to me. Why? This shows that in the last 11 months, I’ve adapted more to Rwanda, it’s become more a part of me, I’ve changed – I’ve allowed this culture into my life, into my everyday life, and my life is now strange without it, and that I’ve made the right decision to live in Rwanda another year.

A BIG part of my experience in America were my students. They were always on my mind. When I was in a nice restaurant; when I was walking around in Downtown Chicago; when I was at the Palmer House, looking at the murals and the big Christmas tree; when I was picking out chocolates; when I was at a BareMinerals Boutique, getting a makeover done; when I was trying on nice, new clothing; when I was baking or cooking anything in my mom’s kitchen; when I was putting ornaments on the Christmas tree; when I was at the Indianapolis Art Museum, looking at Matisse; when I was at the dentist and salon; when I was getting a facial…and so on…

I kept thinking, “What would my students say if they were here, in this moment right now?”

These are all normal, American, western things – all of them. I used to participate in these activities as if they were the MOST NORMAL THING EVER. It was just a part of life, maybe not everyday life, but still, a part of what a typical American does at least once a year. The way we think about these activities NEVER happens in Rwanda. One can, yes, walk the streets of Kigali (the capital of Rwanda). There are variations of these activities, but the impact of the cleanliness, the awe, the easiness, the CONVENIENCE, above all, does not exist in Rwanda.

My students, who all live 4-5 hours away from Kigali, most of whom have never been there or even to Kibungo…what would they say? Maybe “YEBABAWE” “JESWE” or “OMYGOD,” but above all, I imagined them in silence, looking a child’s gaze, mouth agape, taking it all in and not believing it’s really real.

from nasho to nyanza.

16 November 2013

Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place. -Kurt Vonnegut

The last few weeks have been happy, sad, full of reflection and projection.

26 months ago today, Education 3, Peace Corps Rwanda’s 6th group arrived in country. Like every other Peace Corps group, we didn’t quite know each other yet, but over time, we became a family. Always supportive. Always storytelling and listening. We gave advice, and these people – my Peace Corps family – we had a good run together.

We’ve said goodbyes. Some were swift, plans for next month in America already set. Others were teary, not knowing when we’d see each other again. Heather and I held hands like two Rwandan young women, tears formed once the hug cemented, and we could only mutter out that we loved each other.

Now, in country, we are 9. The other 28 are on trips of a lifetime, back home in the States, or living abroad elsewhere. Some left the borders of Rwanda on planes, others on buses. Soon, we will be 5.

These last 26 months have been miserable and amazing. When I left my family in Indianapolis’ airport, I didn’t know if I would even make it a day. Or a month. Or the first year. And looking back on it now, I think I had those fears because I didn’t yet know the people I’d be working with. I didn’t yet know the kindness and love I’d give and receive from my neighbors and my friends. I didn’t yet understand how sometimes, a simple conversation or action can make any person feel better about their day.

You’ll ache. And you’re going to love it. It will crush you. And you’re still going to love all of it. Doesn’t it sound lovely beyond belief? –Ernest Hemingway, The Garden of Eden

I visited my host family a few weeks ago. I was helping with the Education 5’s training for a couple of days, and so I was back at the training site. I hadn’t seen them since I left for Nasho December of 2011. I hadn’t visited them because something happened at the end of my time there, and so I hadn’t felt comfortable seeing them. It’s not a story worth telling. But time passed. I started feeling guilty about not seeing them. I visited them for a couple of hours with their new trainee. There were changes at their house…new paint, the kids were taller and bigger, more English was being used, but my host mother hadn’t changed a bit. She still had her caring eyes, her excited laugh, and her wit. We talked about family. Her mother had passed. She lived to be 100. I showed her pictures of my siblings’ children. She reminded me that she prays for my family to have many children. I laughed.

Among the most striking things that I have learned is how much we have in common. I’ve sat down with people everywhere, discussing what was in their hearts and on their minds. And it doesn’t take long to find commonality, which is often overlooked, ignored, dismissed, and rejected otherwise. -Hillary Clinton

My closest friends in Peace Corps, Ginger, Michael, and I went to Musanze for the weekend before they took off to Cambodia. We enjoyed a few days in the cool air by the volcanos – eating at nice Italian restaurants, shopping, and sipping afternoon drinks. Ginger and I walked to the ATM on our last night there, and she got distracted by the view. The sun was setting over the mountains, and she said, “Look!” We stood there, hugging, looking at this mountain and the sunset. She started talking about our friendship, and I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t return the lovely words she was giving me because I was so choked up. In this moment, I realized that she was really going and I was really staying and I couldn’t comprehend how I was gonna do this without her.

I often think of you all, one cannot do what one wants in life. The more you feel attached to a spot, the more ruthlessly you are compelled to leave it, but the memories remain, and one remembers – as in a looking glass, darkly – one’s absent friends. -Vincent van Gogh

It wasn’t an easy decision, deciding to stay another year. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in Rwanda. I’ve felt completely isolated, being an expensive 1.5 hour moto ride away from other PCVs, and I’ve felt so incredibly happy, having the simplest of conversations and sharing the most basic of meals. The doubt I had about extending was all based on who I’d be leaving behind in America for another year. I thought about my family and my siblings’ children. I thought about my mom and my grandmothers. I thought about my closest friends, busy in medical school and planning weddings. It’s not easy knowing that decisions you’re making about your life are also affecting people back home, and that it’s not just that I miss them, but that they miss me too. Every day that I’m not there is another day I miss the anecdotes from their life: a story about an interaction between them and a cute guy at a coffee shop, a cute dress they found on sale, a professor they’re butting heads with, a dream they had…and the things we could share: bottles of wine, evenings on a porch, concerts, meals…

I miss all of this stuff, and I will continue to miss all of this stuff. Staying is what makes sense professionally, and though it hinders my relationships, the outcome is my passion.

Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity. -Carl Jung

Always go with your passions. Never ask yourself if it’s realistic or not. -Deepak Chopra

I went to Nyanza for a week to meet my new coworkers and transition with Katie, the current 3rd year PCV working at ILPD. I felt like I had gone back two years, on my site visit again. I haven’t spent a lot of time in Nyanza, so Katie was awesome and showed me around. We walked toward the King’s Palace, the Art Museum, she showed me the best shops in town and to the bar with good omelets. I took it all in, these paths along the (paved!) roads, the people (who because work in the southern capital, are dressed very nicely), the fact that I was COLD (!) in Nyanza and didn’t sweat through anything once I walked outside, and my new job. Yes, being a PCV is very difficult. Most of the difficulty, I think, is because of the cultural differences and dealing with the same annoying bullshit day after day (“Hello. You are beautiful. Will you be my wife?”). The easiest part of my job has been teaching, which is actually my Primary Job. But being in Nyanza with Katie, learning the ins and outs and hang-ups, back-and-forths, and REAL JOB STUFF got my heart beating a little more quickly. This is a legit job – people are going to depend on me for answers, and I have to depend on myself to get it all prepped so that it runs smoothly. Work Orders. Edits and Revisions. Scheduling meetings. Kigali and Nyanza. I’ve been busy before. In college. During Peace Corps training. Let’s just say I’m happy I’ll have this job as transition back into The Super Serious Work Mode in America.

Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn. -C. S. Lewis

Katie and I had a meeting with Peace Corps and ILPD that ran into the early afternoon. We bused it to Kigali afterwards, and I continued east. I was racing the sun, trying to get back to Nasho before 6:30. The bus I was on, though, had a different plan. Leaving Kigali at 4:00, it drove slowly. I frantically called Heather like an umusazi (crazy person). I was gonna try to crash with her because she lives close to the main road, but she was visiting her friend’s family in another district. It was already 7 PM. I didn’t want my last moto ride into Nasho to be in the dark. I wanted the view of the lakes from the Kabare Hill. I remembered that my friend Domitille’s family lives in Kabarondo. Domitille’s new job is in Rwinkwavu (she used to be a teacher in Nasho), so I didn’t know if she lived there or with her family. I took a chance. Calling her, we first greeted each other. And then I told her about my problem. I didn’t even finish my thoughts before she said, “Can you come here? Stay with my family.” She met me at the Kabarondo bus park and took me to her house. I met her parents and her many siblings. We sat in their comfy sitting room, electricity gone, candles lighting the space, so I couldn’t make out how anyone looked, really. We discussed our families, our jobs, and the fact that Domitille is getting married in January! I was incredibly impressed by her family’s English, and they laughed at some of the strange Kinya words I know (ikibahima – a word that means a small house within a family compound for a single person – always makes people laugh! I know it because I live in one). They gave me conversation with family, dinner, and a whole room to myself to sleep in. Generosity. Home. No questions. Love. Just given.

You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place. – Miriam Adeney

When I woke up that next morning, Domitille called her favorite moto driver to their house. He arrived promptly, and they walked me out, Rwandan style, not letting me hold a single thing. I thanked her family once more, said goodbye and took off. The air was fresh and crisp. There was a slight chill, it being just past 6 in the morning. We motoed past cows grazing, farmers digging, and mamas with babies on their backs. We motoed past the fields, rich due to the recent rain and children playing. Goats blocked our way twice, and the air ran low in one tire. When we approached it, the Kabare Hill, I felt my throat knot up, and I thought, “This is it. This is the last time this hill means, ‘I’m coming home’.”

The view was perfect. The sky was clear and blue, sparse clouds. I could see the whole valley.

I remembered the first time I saw it – all I knew about my site was that it was near lakes, and so when I saw them, I thought, “Ok! This is it! I’m close to my future home!”

I took it all in this last time. This view from the hilltop of the valley and its people. I looked out unto it, and I cried the whole way down.

My heart might be bruised, but it will recover and become capable of seeing beauty of life once more. It’s happened before, it will happen again, I’m sure. When someone leaves, it’s because someone else is about to arrive–I’ll find love again. -Paulo Coelho, The Zahir

On the evening of 8 November, I was with Ginger and Michael in Musanze, but I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking about how, if I hadn’t decided to extend, I would probably have taken the Turkish Airlines flight to Chicago and how I’d be landing that evening. That night was when those two paths separated, and I’ll never know the difference.

This is where I am going. Moving forward in Rwanda. A new place. New coworkers. Ignited passion for my future.

A woman’s life can really be a succession of lives, each revolving around some emotionally compelling situation or challenge, and each marked off by some intense experience. -Wallis Simpson

I don’t know how much measurable good I’ve brought to Nasho. I can say, to Peace Corps’ probable relief, that I am as integrated as a foreigner can be here. I can say that it’s changed me and given me a much better understanding of what life is like for most people in the world. I better understand what being happy and grateful really mean and how to actively live with those characteristics. I better understand my personal limits. I know things I never thought I’d need to know, like how to train cockroaches to go down in their hole so they don’t disturb me when I want to be in my water room. Yeah, that’s a strange thing to need to know.

Nasho and its people have taught me to feel good about what I’m doing. They didn’t always understand why some American girl would want to live here for two years, but they welcomed that fact and opened bits of their world to me. My girls have shown me through their words and actions that mayyybe their world is a little bit different because I was in it for a little while. My friendships with people who speak zero English have truly taught me how important body language, miming, eyes, and love are.

Thank you, Nasho. I have just 8 more days here. It’s time to pack.

You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own. -Michelle Obama