a time for everything


Last night I came home from Butare (all the PC trainees took the two hour trip to see the National Museum and get yummy Western food) and I played “umupira” with my little sister here. In Kinyarwanda that means soccer, and it was nice to do something relieving, especially with so much emotion around here lately. I’ve been trying to find things here that help deal with the adjustment here. So far, I’ve found that going on runs (which are RIDICULOUSLY hard here…it’s so hilly), reading this terrible romance novel (don’t judge), and journaling seem to the best options. I also love just being around my family because they are SO wonderful…but it’s also important for me to have some alone time here. I barely have a moment to reflect and think about what’s going on in my life, so I am really cherishing the moments I do have for “charging my batteries.”

Last weekend we went to the Genocide Memorial and Kigali. Having that experience was incredibly important to what I am going to be doing here. It was also intense, heartbreaking, and shocking. 1 million people died here in Rwanda in 1994. 1 million people in 100 days. Children were killing children, families killing families, and the museum did a good job at explaining how the Rwandan Genocide came to be. It didn’t happen overnight; in fact, it was something that was building for decades and decades before. A man who came to one of our sessions last week as a guest speaker told us that he had witnessed violence since he was 6. This man was well into his 50’s. As someone who has lived the life that I have, how do I even begin to conceptualize that? I walked away from the memorial an emotional wreck. I couldn’t help but think about how grateful I was for my family. And also for my country where I have never felt in danger of going through something like that. It’s not to say we are immune to that (our government is no where close to perfect) but I can confidently say that I have always been safe in the hands of my government and especially in the hands of my family. The fact that so many people–an entire country–had dealt with otherwise is unfathomable. I encourage those of you who don’t know much about the Rwandan Genocide to read about it. It’s informative, intense, and essential to my interactions and relationships that I am building here in this country. I suppose having a context for everything I saw was the hardest part. I couldn’t help but wonder: what did my family here go through? What was it like here back in the 90’s? And yet, we don’t talk about it. Some of my PC friends have had conversations with their family members who can speak better English or even French, but I have to converse with my family with Kinyarwanda and mimes. Yes, miming. I have become quite resourceful in my expressions. I kind of have to make up for my limited Kinyarwanda skills…

But anyway, that’s been on my mind all week. I am still processing the memorial experience and it’s hard to believe something like that happened in a country so beautiful, and a country moving ahead. I do feel safe here. More safe than I could have even imagined! I am trying to be patient with learning more about what happened here where I am living. On a more permanent level, I will need to be patient once I move to site (which I find out the location of on FRIDAY!) in learning about the genocide and it’s impact on the place I’m living. On my students. And on my community. This historical context will continue to be a theme throughout my service in the Peace Corps.

On a personal level, it’s been an emotional few days after hearing about the passing of my grandma. Grandma Jenny passed on Saturday, and my dad called me to give me the news. Somehow, instinctually, I knew that was the news. I saw the “unknown number” calling, figured it was my dad, and thought Grandma might have passed away. I just had this feeling. And so when he told me and we chatted briefly over the phone, I kind of had to hold it together. I was teaching some English words to Grace and Simon (two of my host siblings) and continued to do so after I got done talking with dad. I later told my host mom in broken Kinyarwanda what had happened and she told me that she was in heaven. I just smiled back, said thank you, and just knew it was true. My new friends here have also been great. They have encouraged me to take the time I need, and to cry when necessary. It feels strange trying to forge ahead with a new support system where I am now living, but I know it’s absolutely necessary.

It’s hard being here right now knowing my family is having to say goodbye to someone so dear to us. I had the chance to say goodbye before I left for Rwanda, and for that I am grateful. I am of course even more grateful for the years we spent together, the lessons she taught me, and the fact that I could be loved like that by someone. It’s still difficult knowing that I cannot be there to support my family–especially my dad and uncles–but I just want them to know that I am praying for them always. I am making a decision to stay here because I know that emotionally, that is the best thing for me. If I went home and then had to readjust again and come back here…I’m just not sure that would be good for me. I think Grandma Jenny would want me to be happy…and stable…and so I am confident that remaining here during this hard time for my family is the best choice. I know she’s in a better place. And so even with so much sadness, there is also hope and relief. I no longer have to think about her suffering. That alone makes me feel good about everything else. Life is hard sometimes. But I believe that I can get through this–that all of my family can–because I know we are strong enough. There are times for everything, and even though this is a time to grieve, it is also a time to celebrate.

I am feeling much better about today and about this week…and about everything. I hate missing out on the big news of my friends (engagements…grad school life…field hockey wins…) and the lives of my family. That’s one of the hardest things in adjusting. But I just reassure myself of why I am here everyday. You just have to. I tell myself that I am here to make a difference, to show a group of kids that they matter, that they can succeed, and to live in a culture entirely different than my own. I appreciate America a lot more already. And I also recognize the importance of difference. Different isn’t worse. It’s not necessarily better. It’s just different. When I think about those things, I feel really good and positive about my journey ahead here. I find out on Friday where I am going to be living the next two years…and I can’t wait. I am completely embracing my continued life motto of “why not?” because ultimately, why not?

Thanks for all the love and support. Looking forward to sharing some more of my crazy Rwandan stories 🙂


About Heather Michelle Newell

Hi! I'm Heather. I am a writer and counselor in-training and love to share stories so we can all learn about one another. I spend a great deal of time laughing loudly, going on adventures with my grandmother, walking amidst the beautiful Colorado mountains, and spending time with my fiancee, friends, and family. A Colorado native, I love dark-roasted coffee, sunshine, and getting up early before the rest of the world beats me too it. I am an ENFP, so brace yourself for all the passion, all the enthusiasm, all the possibility.

2 responses »

  1. Heather, Grandma Jenny would be so proud of you. You don’t have to be here to remember her or to say goodbye. Now you can talk to her at anytime and she can hear you! We love you so much and are praying for you to find your nitch there.

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