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