I recently took a vacation to the first world, my motherland, AMERICA. And as many of you know, this vacation came right after one of the biggest emotional dips of my service: the one year mark. And so, it was a necessary vacation. To be completely honest, I needed a break from Rwanda, and more importantly, I needed to hug my family and friends, who happen to be the number 1 on the mental list of things I miss. Number 2 is food. Number 3, which I discovered while in America (hadn’t thought about it much in Rwanda), is convenience.
Once I landed at O’Hare in Chicago, my traveling was just beginning. I traveled all over America, 4 states in all (Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and Idaho). I slept on my own comfy mattress, couches, blow up mattresses, plane seats, and guest room mattresses, all provided by my many hostesses. Here’s a shout out to you all: my sister Erin and her husband Jason, Karissa, Kirstie, Uncle Max and Aunt Patty, Lisa, Dale and Karen Andrews, and of course my own parents. There were also some friends who went wayyy outta their way to see me for just a few hours, so thanks to both Amys, Kathleen, and Laura.
All in all, I spent my time visiting almost every single relative I have, all of my closest friends, working Goal 3 (giving talks at THN, Collins, and the GV), and EATING. I ate quite a bit, to the extent that, on Christmas Eve when I proclaimed at 8 PM that I thought I was full (I had been eating since I woke), the entire room hushed and people exclaimed, “REALLY?! NOW you’re full?!” and then 30 minutes later, I ate a cupcake. I gained 15 pounds in America, which is slightly obnoxious, but I have no shame or regrets. I lost 20 pounds in Rwanda this last year, so I knew I’d lose it again, what with the diet I have.
My favorite moments weren’t really about what I was doing, but rather, who I was doing it with. I went shopping, I ate at restaurants, I went to a concert, I went to a Pacer game, I traveled, but all with my sister, my friends and family, my younger brother, to see my older brother as a new father, and to meet my new nephew. I felt like the whole month was full of greetings and then, the inevitable goodbye. Also, just being in America was nice – walking the streets of Chicago, no one cared about me. I wasn’t something to be looked at, so it was nice just being one of a hundred on a city block. The convenience that exists in America is AWESOME. I bought delicious microwavable meals at Trader Joes and then, after a few minutes in a microwave I was eating it. I could count on the electricity always working and shower water being hot. That’s so cool. So damn cool. It was nice going into a clothing shop, knowing that each item was new and soft and in many stores, of good quality. I touched a lot of fabric, adored a lot of scarves.
Most of my time in America was happy, but there were some moments where I was like, “Really, America?! REALLY?!” The first being Sandy Hook – obvious, for all of America was shocked and spent weeks in mourning, our flag at half-staff. I got interested, but tried not to get too engrossed in the conversations about mental illness and gun control that covered news programs. Speaking of news, 24/7 news programs are overwhelming. They’re exhausting. TV in general is exhausting. I spent two days watching TV, being lazy, and quite frankly, I couldn’t take it anymore. The Target Christmas commercial freaked me out so much that I had to switch channels when it came up. Something that REALLY freaked me out was seeing cheerleaders, some as young as 7 or 8 walking around a mall, decked out in makeup and in outfits that should only pass for swimsuits. The Rwandan in me came out as I thought, “These girls look like prostitutes.” I was reassured that the thought wasn’t that insane, as my girlfriends also felt uncomfortable seeing the young girls dressed like that. These thoughts make me feel like a hypocrite, as a feminist (Women should be able to wear what they want! Express yourself!), but I think there is truth in saying that if you want your daughter to be smart, funny, cute, and clever, you have your parental priorities mixed up when dressing her up like a lap dancer. The last things that shocked me were slightly funny: everyone seemed to have an iPad – I saw them all over airports and in coffee shops. And new coke machines. The ones that you use a touch screen to indicate which beverage you want and then it comes out. INSANE. SERIOUSLY. I stood in front of that machine for like 30 seconds at Noodles in Chicago, amazed.
So now I’m back in Rwanda. I was nervous about coming back because, to be completely honest, I didn’t really miss Rwanda much while I was in America. I was very absorbed in what I was doing, which was being with the people that are most important to me and eating everything in sight. I had a short freak out, which may have been jetlag induced, one of my first days back in country, but I think I’m doing okay now.
Since arriving, I had my Mid-Service Medical Exam and Mid-Service Conference in Musanze. I am back in my village now, having been greeted by children on the road as I was moto-ing in, co-workers, students, compound mates, my chapatti makin’ friend, Jen, and a multitude of people at my market who remembered my name.
I’m looking forward to the new year, the final 10 months of my service, and now I share with you my goals for year 2:
1) Teach 20 hours/week of English
2) Start GLOW club
3) Encourage a male teacher to start BE club
4) Send students to Kigali Marathon, GLOW and BE Camps
5) Work GLOW camp
6) Send ICT teacher to a Tech Training
7) Teach Judges
8) Give sexual harassment, diversity, and queer issues training to Ed 4 (IST) and Ed 5 (PST)
9) Encourage collaboration between different PCV groups and programming ideas, by way of GAD
10) Send cards home for birthdays
13) Cook a meal for compound once a month
14) Make beautiful jewelry
15) Write ‘Why I am still here’ lists
16) Spend more time at school
17) Plan awesome Close of Service trip with Ella and Jen
18) Write in journal
19) Design quilt
20) DO: Akagare, Gisenyi, Gorillas, Climb Volcano, Visit more PCVs, Host Dad