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.