To all of you who have been reading: Thank you. Thank you for taking the time to learn about Rwanda and Peace Corps. Thank you for your interest in my life experiences. Thank you for the letters and care packages you’ve sent. Thank you for the Facebook and whatsapp messages. Thank you for the prayers you’ve said, and the time you’ve spent thinking about me and my fellow PCVs. Thank you for the phone calls, no matter the time, Mom and Dad. These last three years and some months haven’t been easy, but all of you who have communicated with me when I was in need or just in the general sense of conversation have made it easier. You’ve made me feel not so far away from the home I left. You’ve reminded me of where I come from, and how no matter how frustrating or impossible things can seem here, there are other ways to look at my situation. You’ve encouraged me to remember that my being here should be enjoyed as long as I’m here, and that I shouldn’t take it for granted.
Last week, on my last trip to Mulindi wa Nasho, I didn’t take any of it for granted. I arrived, per the usual, on a moto from Kabarondo, and went directly to Emeline and Samuel’s compound, where I was greeted, hugged, and was fussed over – over how much weight I’d lost, pictures of my family…
I spent two days there, during which time visitors galore came to the house to greet me, I walked through the busy Nasho market one more time, I went to the school to visit with some of my former coworkers, and I was hosted several times, being served some of my favorite Rwandan fare. Over and over again, as I greeted people and as I walked by, I was told and I overheard people saying, “Sarah wacu has returned.” Our Sarah. A name that is given in a familial sense, many were sad when I told them my contract was finished and that I didn’t know if I would come back.
The familiarity that I feel in Nasho is of one I haven’t felt in any other place in Rwanda. Being on that moto, and seeing the lakes from the Kabare Hill, slowly going down into the valley, and then being there for some time is similar to the feeling I get when returning to my parent’s home after a long vacation — I may have been somewhere more beautiful or seemingly more interesting, but this place is where I feel safe and settled. This is where my friends are, people know my name, and I feel comfortable. For those two days, I sank into that familiarity once again, peeling potatoes with Mugisha to make chips, watching music videos in the sitting room, and to my great surprise — an event beyond my expectations — Emeline invited her new brother-in-law over to hold a chapati making party, due to the fact that Jeanne has closed up shop and is no longer making the oily messes of flatbread that I love so much. Six chapatis and a plate full of beans later, I was beyond my satisfied quota.
There are a lot of people and situations that make an experience so distinctly Rwandan – fanta, plantains and chips with peanut sauce, tea made with milk, my friends – but to be in any place that has these things isn’t the same as feeling emotionally connected to them as I do as when I have them in Nasho. Being able to return there, where my experiences have mostly been positive, where these things are shared with love, with the wacu in mind, was quite emotional, satisfying, and touching. I don’t know if I will ever experience something similar to what I had there again, but I do know that I won’t forget it.
And now, I carry with me the memories I made there, the people who made my service what it was, and I say Goodbye, one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do during my service.
Goodbye Nyanza, goodbye to your paved roads and gorgeous rolling hills.
Goodbye Lake Kivu, goodbye to your night fishermen and getaway weekends you gave me.
Goodbye Nasho, goodbye to your people, kind and inviting, loud and funny. Goodbye to your strong sun, dirt tornados with gusts of wind, sweet mangoes, and plethora of bananas.
Goodbye Jeanne. You were the first person to give me a welcoming hug into my strange new home. You gave me breakfast each morning, an oily pancakey mess of perfection. You listened. You held my hand. You taught me that we didn’t always have to understand each other. Your eyes, your smiles, your happy greetings each morning. Love. That’s what you gave me.
Goodbye Emeline and Samuel. You invited me into your home, told me from day one that we were family, and that I was to be your younger sister. You didn’t even know me. But you asked. You advocated. You protected. You let me play and joke with your children as if I was their aunt. I played with them when I couldn’t play with my own nephews and niece. We gossiped. We laughed. We cooked together. When I was sad or sick, you knew, you prayed, and you gave me space. When I needed help, you helped me as an older sibling would. And never once did you complain.
Goodbye Mwami. You were the first person I met who made me think, “Thank God someone in Nasho has excellent English!” For two years, you were my counterpart at school and on the field. You invited me and translated for me when no one else explained what was going on. You explained cultural significances on dozens of occasions, and you worked to make me feel welcome. Without you, I would have been lost and confused. With you, we did good work together, supporting each other.
Goodbye market ladies. You laughed with me, at me, and about me. You fought over my ijanas. You helped chase the crazies away when they kept pestering me. You always found me the best pineapple, the sweetest mango, the firmest tomatoes, and always, always, you remembered that I prefer white onion.
Goodbye to my fellow PCVs. To Ed3 – you guys rock. This country misses you – I miss you. We had many good times together, and we all learned from each other. This year without all of you has been difficult, but seeing where you’re going has kept my hopes high for my RPCV life. You are incredible people with so many talents, and I know the future will bring many, many good opportunities to all of you.
Goodbye to my students and my girls. Some of you really need to reevaluate why you’re in school. And to others of you: I wish I could take you some place where you could expand your knowledge more. You have so much capability. You have so much strength. You have opened my eyes to what it really means to have privilege. You have inspired me, humbled me, and you have forced me to reevaluate EVERYTHING. The way you learn, the way you dance, the strength in your song…it is not possible to forget you.
Goodbye to every disgusting man who harassed me. You’re gross.
Goodbye to every man and woman who advocated for me. Thank you. Thank you for voicing your opinion. Thank you for kicking that guy off the bus or making him move to the back, far from me. Thank you for making sure I feel okay. Thank you for helping me to not always generalize. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, for you made me feel safe.
Goodbye to Peace Corps staff. Sometimes you really annoyed and inconvenienced me. Other times you supported me and gave great advice. You’ve had interest in our lives and how we are doing. You usually had purpose behind your actions, and I respect that.
Goodbye Kigali. Thank you for having delicious Indian food, rotisserie style chicken, and cheese.
Goodbye ibitoke. You are so delicious. Goodbye bar omelets. Goodbye goat cheese. You helped subside my cravings. Goodbye and good riddance amandazi. I ate too many of you.
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