Ever since I was a young girl I’ve been inexplicably happy when I’ve been out on the front porch. Sometimes I would find myself on crickety old rocking chairs, or frequently, when we lived on Rifle Street (in a neighborhood called ‘The Farm’) and had a hanging floral bench, I would sit outside with a book and lounge away during summer vacations. I noticed this habit more so during my days exploring the American South. Everyone, it seemed, had something out on the front porch as to facilitate time spent there. Once, in Alabama, I saw a porch swing that has been carved to read ‘Alabama’. One of the many reasons I love the South–they sure are proud of their roots. And, admittably, the assortment of rocking chairs at Cracker Barrel made that restaurant even more of a pull to visit, in addition to the unbeatable cheesy potatoes they offer (okay. my mouth is literally watering).
Old fashioned (and even as old woman like) as it may sound, there really is something special about being at home but simultaneously being outside, absorbing the day, and even people watching as the neighborhood passes by.
So, it really should be no surprise that the evening I just spent out on my porch relieved my stresses of the week and helped me feel relaxed, at home, and comfortable. After my run with ‘Team Komera’ as I’ve named the couple little guys that I run with almost on the daily (they often run with much more gusto than myself and usually without any shoes), I invited them to come over for some “juice” (really, propel mix in water) along with a couple of other kids who were on the road. Setting boundaries has been really difficult here; one of my greatest challenges, actually, and I felt it was a good time for the kids to visit. I’ve limited the time kids spend at my house because if you let a few in, well, hundreds more expect visitation rights too. Plus, I already have visitors on a daily basis and believe it or not, I really do need my alone time sometimes. Anyway, I digress, I was in the mood for some of the youngins’ to come over and so they did. We sat together watching people through my grass fence, along with my roommate, Louise, and her sister visiting from Kigali. I taught (or attempted, rather) them how to snap their fingers and make funny faces. You know, sometimes the whole language barrier thing can be limiting in my interactions with people, but with kids you can just do stupid stuff and you are all set.
My good friend—an old 80 year old something woman—came by and I passed along some medicine to her. She’s old, frail, and in a lot of pain and so I think it’s entirely appropriate. She’s also very poor, and so without the ability to farm, she really can’t get to our health center in our village and get some medicine for whatever she is suffering from. She’s a tiny lady who crouches just a bit, and often wears a black and green floral fabric over her small body paired with yellow flats from the market. She walks slow, even for a Rwandan, and I once watched as Alphonsine (they lady who helps me do work around my house) rubbed some greenish-herbal-village concoction on her aching ribs. Like I said, if I can help her feel a little less pain with a little Tylenol, then I’m going to do it.
After her visit, my friend Claude came to teach me French. Usually for our one-two times per week lesson we go inside my house, but today I insisted on remaining outside. It was a beautiful evening, after all. Soon, my friend Fidele and ‘Pastor P’ (the pastor who lives across the street from me) joined as well, and we sipped coffee as the blue-orange sky became black, illuminated by my sturdy metal kerosene lamp. We soon were talking frankly about the difficulties faced by our students, why they are performing so low on exams, and focusing on what we can differently. To be sitting around, talking, relaxing, without any shoes on, amd just enjoying the moment—well, it felt natural. And, as I gazed off at the stars (which you can see perfectly out here), lost in my own thoughts, I remembered why being out on the porch is really just so great: time doesn’t really matter and when you slow things down a bit, you actually feel a lot more alive. When I embrace that attitude (especially while living in Africa), I don’t get so stressed about being busy or dealing with the immersion difficulties that I face on the daily. I think I’ll be out on my porch much more often.
I definitely didn’t so enough of that this week. I confess: I reverted to my not-so-great-tendencies this week.
And it makes sense why—
I had the incredible opportunity to interview the best Rwandan students last week in their hopes of earning a Presidential Scholarship to study in America for four years at university (one of those being Hendrix College).
And it was.
On top of an amazing opportunity to take part in a partnership between MINEDUC (the Ministry of Education) and Hendrix (check out more information here: http://www.hendrix.edu/rwanda), I got sweet digs to stay for the days I was in Kigali for (I think I took like 7 hot baths), delicious, phenomenal (and free!) food, and of course free wi-fi which I completely OD’d on. I met incredible mover and shakers in Rwanda (including people from the US Consulate, the ministry of education, missionaries, and current student Hendrix interns) and spoke my rapid, sometimes incomprehensible English all week.
So, when I found myself back home without power and squatting over a hole to go to the bathroom, I couldn’t believe I could get culture sho k from just a few days. Kigali Koma (as I call it) steeped a little deeper too, I think. I was less patient with my teachers at school and upon becoming tremendously frusturated with the lack of organization and explanation among staff at my school, I actually left school in tears multiple times this week. I felt my easy-go-with-the-flow-peace corps persona crumbling. It’s exam week at school and everything makes working without a lot of resources came to light. The procedures, the paperwork, and everything in between. For example, someone forgot to make a photocopy of one of my upper level exams (they have to go in town—40 minutes away—to access the copy machine) and so I was unable to give one of my classes the final term exam. It’s a situation I find really hard to describe because on paper it doesn’t sound too messy. But, trust me, it is. I could feel my frustration building throughout the first few days of exams (a marker that guarantees I will cry) and so I spent a good portion of the week huffing and puffing, keeping busy, trying to quell my stress in whatever way I knew how. It was different though, because it wasn’t the normal stresses of cultural immersion; this stress was an exasperation with a system, with non-existent resources, and the realization that I can do very little to help this part of things. I should have just gone outside like tonight…and just relaxed. Because now, faced with over 350 exams to grade (wish I was kidding), I feel totally capable in dealing with this situation.
I don’t think a night on a porch can solve everything. I’m not that naive. But, I also realize that sometimes you don’t have to overreact to the difficulties around you; sometimes you just have to cope. That’s really what being a Peace Corps Volunteer is all about. Well, that, and also making the best of the cards you are dealt with. A night of ditching your own schedule and just hanging out, especially as the day turns into night gives you a lot of perspective; there is a lot of chaos, stress, and bad things in the world. So, why stress about the things you really can’t change? It’s an old life adage, but one that keeps coming back to me as I spend more and more time here.
I’m going back to Kigali this weekend, though this time will be much different from my high life with Hendrix. I have a meeting with my program manager, a meeting about a girls camp I am helping to lead this summer, and I’ll put in two full days of work at a Kigali hospital with Operation Smile with some other Peace Corps Volunteers. We will be working 8-8 days, comforting and helping children that will be getting surgery to fix deformities they have faced. I’m excited, but also aware this could be emotionally challenging and so in that way too, I’m bracing myself.
I am eagerly anticipating the opportunity however, as I’ll get to be with children in a different context and work alongside my PCV friends. Additionally, Meredith (a good friend of mine) and I plan to go on morning runs in shorts and with our IPODS—both of which we don’t do back home in the village for conservative-culture reasons. Not to mention, I’ll be getting my favorite white chocolate mocha (once or three times) from Bourbon Coffee (best coffee shop ever) so there’s a lot to look forward to.
The key to all of this though, is knowing that there is solace for me, not just in Kigali. It can be right here at home, even on my porch. Pull out a chair or two, drink some coffee, and just chat. It’s essential to know (and live) this because I don’t live in Kigali—that is not my reality and I can’t depend on it (but I sure can love it, and I do).
The best part is that as I pack my bags, fitting in as much things that I can charge as possible (this is my life), lingering around my rooms, I am looking forward to coming back home again and being here. For the circumstances of living out in the village, I ‘d say that’s pretty good.
That indeed, is progress.