Monthly Archives: November 2012

murakoze (thanks).

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A couple of weeks ago, I was at a Rwandan party (typical) that had to do with some pre-wedding celebration (as to be expected) with Divine (we are basically attached at the hip). I get invited to these sorts of gatherings occasionally with an invitation but most often with a short-notice verbal offer. And usually I say yes. Divine had mentioned the party on a Friday—the final day of school where we passed out reports—and the party was the next day, on Saturday. No problem, I said. And so it was.

I arrived to the wide-open arms of old women draped in traditional Rwandan dress, to a bark brown colored cow, and to a slew of old men on benches already sucking the straws of their shared banana and sorghum beer. Why yes, a Rwandan party indeed. After a few minutes of greeting the family (and let’s be real, working the crowd), Divine whisked me away to a small room on an attached part of the house. The room was quite a bit isolated from everything else, and we sat on an old bed frame with a small blanket, adjacent to a small table holding various household items, like a large spoon to serve and a red jacket to keep warm.

Here, we got to take a break from the stuffy room full of family members discussing wedding formalities, and instead relax, hug, and catch up for a few moments. Abruptly Divine left for a few moments and so I was left alone for a bit (quite common when visiting homes in Rwanda) and wondered what exactly that girl was up to. And y’all, that girl came back holding a 1-liter yellow jug full of banana beer. We kind of have this understanding as I had let her in on my little secret: I like beer. Moreover, I like banana beer (oh yeah, totally have been in the village too long). And so, Divine and I shared this smuggled jug of banana beer in a small, cramped, one-window room in our little village. True friendship.

That party framed the end of not only the school term, but the school year. Before I committed to a long list of holiday obligations and commitments, I spent the last week in my village working on my library project, doing some last minute home visits, and taking some time to just relax. I knew I would need it. My holiday schedule is as follows:

-Model School (helping observe Peace Corps trainees as they practice teaching)

-BE (Boys Excelling) Camp

-Visiting Divine in Eastern Rwanda at her mother’s home

-Visiting another student, Joyce, at her home near the Ugandan border

-Attending and celebrating at the swear-in ceremony for the new group of Education volunteers (called ‘Ed-4’ in Peace Corps lingo)

-DAD’S VISIT TO RWANDA (!!!!!!!)

-New Year’s safari with friends in Eastern Rwanda

-Mid-Service Conference (Peace Corps sponsored conference to discuss ideas, issues, and experiences with my group (‘Ed-3’) as we reach the half-way point of our service)

This particular holiday is approximately 2 months and yet almost every week I have various commitments and events to attend. It’s crazy—even living in rural Rwanda keeps me busy.

In other big news, my sports grant was officially approved by Peace Corps Washington! Which means I can start fundraising. To donate money to help our school acquire materials for our sports program you can follow this link and donate online. Super easy. Everything helps and we would appreciate any contribution you can make!

https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=696-021

I went out for pizza last night with 4 other Peace Corps friends to celebrate Thanksgiving. We went around the table, as per tradition, to share what we are thankful for.

Admittedly (and so not surprisingly), I got a bit emotional and teary-eyed as I explained how much I have treasured and valued the support I’ve received the past year.

From my wonderful network of family and friends back home to the new support systems and families that I have found in Rwanda, not a day has passed that I haven’t been encouraged. Packages, letters, phone calls, hugs, smiles, skype dates, conversations, greetings, and the building of relationships are just the beginning of this kind of support. I can’t really explain it, but I suppose when you move a bagillion miles away to a new place you are able to see your life in a new way, with a fresh lens. I’ve reflected on a lot of things and one things for sure: the people in my love are the driving force for all that I do. I can do this because people believe in me. I can do this because it’s beyond worth it—even in the tough days. I do this because I think God brings us to exactly what we need. I can do this because it’s what is meant to be. My life in Rwanda is no longer just about me, and I think that’s important to note. It’s a strange mixture of the past and present, of the people who shaped the woman I have been, and the people that are influencing the woman I am becoming. It’s a blending of giving and receiving, of believing and trusting. It’s an extraordinarily difficult experience sometimes, but that’s why I love Thanksgiving. This day, in particular, reminds you of what you can offer to the world and what the world gives you. It helps you reflect on what God has put in your life and what exactly you can do with it. Thanksgiving makes you believe in your potential and life again. And so even celebrating a couple days late, I’m just bursting at the seams with gratitude, unsure of exactly how ended up here, but just so glad I have.

 Murakoze (thank you). 

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red-blooded American

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The first time Barack Obama became President of the United States of America I was with my friends, at Hendrix College, dressed in an homemade Obama/Martin Luther King Jr. themed t-shirt, and screaming YES WE CAN on and off the entire election night. Red, blue, and white confetti scattered the tables and floors, and the hosts of the party (held in our school ballroom adjacent to the old cafeteria) had set out placards for each table representing a different state with the given number of electoral votes. I remember there was food, and I remember anticipating the returns as they came in, but mostly, I remember the feeling of when it became official: Barack Obama was THE President of our country. My friends and I, man, we were so happy.

It’s no secret that Obama did particularly well that year with first-time voters, and he had quite the following at Hendrix. Granted, that’s not surprising given that Hendrix leans heavily to the left. Anyway, it was an important night in history, but also in my life. I realized what it felt like to have a voice in something that big, and what it felt like to take part in the civic process. Just a year or so prior to that, I had come to Hendrix with my Republican background, certain I wouldn’t stray or veer far from that. But never underestimate the human ability to change. There’s a lot of reasons why I crossed party lines, but I did. And so, I found myself emphatic with Obama Fever and thrilled that he was the man that would now represent our country.

The second time Barack Obama became President of the United States of America I was thousands of miles away from Conway, Arkansas, and far removed from the constant rum of news broadcasts providing the latest and most up-to-date information about each state and race. This time, there wasn’t any mass election party to go to, no opportunity to watch the concession and acceptance speeches, or any social networking to check in with. Lord knows that facebook was blowing up and if nothing else, I was glad to be away from the inevitable bickering via statues, comments, and updates on the most used social networking site in the world.

Instead, I was spending the night at one of my favorite students’ (Tuyisenge, one of my GLOW girls) house. She had cooked me dinner (mushy plantains, a meat sauce, and the most delicious cup of milk tea I have yet to taste in Rwanda) after I went to take fanta with her grandparents. They literally bought me 4 fantas that I downed quickly as we watched Rwandan worship videos on their phone and greeted the community members moving in and out of the small dimly light shop. After dinner, Tuyisenge and I got ready for bed. We’d be sleeping together on her mattress; her house has three rooms—one for her grandparents, a storage place, and the front room that is used as a place for Tuyisenge to sleep, for us to eat, and even to wash feet as Rwandans so love to do at least 5 times per day. She carefully set up for bed; she tucked a sheet in at each corner, added a layer of African fabric, and finally placed one last thin sheet on top. I made a final latrine trip before cozying into bed. We studied an old English exam for about an hour before turning off the petrol lamp lighting our room. I didn’t sleep much that night. I wasn’t really that cramped but between the sugar of four fantas, the thoughts racing through my mind, and having little support for my back, sleep was hard to come by.

When we woke in the morning, I knew that the election was over. I didn’t know which way it had gone, but inevitably, it was over (assuming we wouldn’t be having a repeat from Bush’s first election). Tuyisenge and I chatted about her dreams from the night before for a few minutes until her grandmother came trampling into the room just before 6:00 am.

Obama! Obama! Obama yatsinze! Imana ishimwe. Yegoooooo! Wooooooo.

Obama! Obama! Obama has won! God is happy. Yes! Woooo.

I cheered and smiled and felt relieved. What a funny way to get the news, I thought. We then listened to the news broadcast that confirmed his victory.

That was just the start of it too.

All day, and really for the next week, people from all over my community called, texted, and found me to congratulate America for Obama’s victory. That’s not the only thing though; often people would continue to comment how wonderful Democracy is in America. Without me having to say ONE word, I would follow along in Kinyarwanda as people talked about Romney’s concession speech and how all Americans can participate in these kinds of things. They would talk about peaceful transitions of power and how this kind of government really does work.

Inevitably, America was practically 50/50 when it came to this election, so there’s a lot of unhappy people out there. People that are worried about what a second term from Obama means for the economy, for social policies, and how this affects their day-to-day life. Absolutely, people are entitled to these worries, these questions, and these doubts.

If I needed any evidence to ensure that a good chunk of the American electorate was enraged, a simple login to facebook would suffice. I could only stay on facebook for approximately 2 minutes before I decided to turn my phone off. I was overwhelmed by the hatred-filled statuses and the mindless bickering on both sides. Seriously?

In the most perfect world, it wouldn’t be about Republicans and Democrats. It wouldn’t be about the polarization of the two-party system, and it wouldn’t be about why YOU are wrong or why YOU are right. Still, I can appreciate the process; while there’s a lot of debate about the sensibility and fairness of the electoral college, the fact that any American can go out and vote on election day is huge. Moreover, a candidate can win, another can lose, accept this, and our country remains peaceful. There’s no war. We move forward and do the best we can with our chosen leader. The government doesn’t rig the election, the government allows people to speak out against it, and the government follows some incredible documents (The Constitution and Bill of Rights) that stand for the people. This is a democracy after all, and while the government of America has its slew of problems, Americans should walk away from every election proud that we have the process, proud that we have a system set in place to allow the government to adequately and accurately represent the citizens and people it works for.

My mind was churning with this kind of sentiment all week. It was like I had become a red-blooded American, ready to tell anyone and everyone about our great country.

And still, I felt really sad a lot of this week, too. (this link describes perfectly the variance of my emotions on the daily: http://whatshouldpcvscallme.tumblr.com/post/33519467269/every-other-day)

Yes, I was happy with the results. Yes, I was appreciative of the really good aspects of our country. And yes, I was happy with a lot of the social victories in the recent election (with all of the new females in power and the Senate’s first openly gay representative). Yet, all I could think about was Tuyisenge’s house. Literally, her house has hardly anything inside. I couldn’t stop thinking about her life. For the 36ish hours that I was there, she filled her time cooking food, cleaning, and taking care of me. She’s a highly intelligent young woman with no fear (this is how Rwandans like to describe someone with a high level of confidence), and she’s going to continue her studies next year at a better school. She’s going somewhere, I think. But, as people were busy pointing fingers at each other in America, I watched as she washed her couple of pairs of shoes, set our food on a bucket to use as a table, and helped to take care of her family’s cows. I guess I just felt a really heavy and sudden dose of perspective and reality. The hardness of life here really set in this week, I think.

It made the election and all of the rhetoric and everything that goes with that somehow irrelevant. Not that it doesn’t matter, no, quite the opposite, it matters greatly. It’s just it’s hard to be in a reality that I’m unsure many Americans can visualize, understand, or even know about. I can write all the blogs in the world, post as many pictures as possible, and share stories, and yet, I can’t capture what it feels like to be here. I can’t capture that emotion—that experience—of watching someone I really love and care about (Tuyisenge) having to work so hard at tasks that Americans don’t really think twice about.

It upset me, I think, because as we listened to the election news on the radio all morning, I had that moment of wonderment: I’m rich. Tuyisenge is poor. Why? Why did the world work out this way?

I’m often embarrassed by my wealth here. I’m self-conscious about it. When my students come and visit me, I can feel them glancing around at my walls, seeing my plethora of photographs, and the many things that line my walls. Funny, because I have boxes and containers and still more boxes of stuff waiting for me at home in America, and yet everything in my home here is overwhelming for visitors that I have. I also hate how my status as a rich woman separates me. I’m lumped together with higher-up officials and it’s always this elephant in the room that nobody wants to address. At events where I would rather be in the crowd with my girls, I’m often found up in the front, in the chairs set out for leaders, because that’s what white skin and money can do for you. The kicker is that I’m a volunteer—I really don’t have that much money.

But in comparison, I do.

And so this brings me back to the election. I have heard and seen people complain and complain about the exact way Obama is going to ruin our country. But what they forget is to take a moment and grab a bit of perspective. See yourself as an American, within the context of the world. Think about what you do on a daily basis. Reflect on your blessings. Think about all the good things in your life. Before freaking out about the state of the United States government, give thanks where it is due, because there are people living in significantly worse conditions. I hate being that girl who says something along the lines of, “well, in Africa…” That’s not really what I’m getting at. My point is this: whatever you thought of the election, own it, feel it, and embrace it. But no matter what, give thanks that you have a government working for you. Give thanks for the life that you lead, give thanks for your blessings, and remember that the world is an incredibly beautiful and big place. 

People, of course around election time, always talk about the importance of being an informed voter. Read the news, read the history of the candidates, do your research, they say. This is crucial stuff. I agree whole-heartedly. But, I would encourage this kind of thing all year long, outside just the realm of politics, and much deeper in heart of the humanity. America is not the only representation of the world. Cultures, ideas, and histories run deep, and other parts of the world experience different lifestyles, challenges, and victories. While Peace Corps is an extreme way of trying to understand another culture by no means is it the only way. Read something. Talk to someone. Connect. I honest-to-God believe that attempting to understand the world can transform your life, the way you see things, and how you participate and contribute to your own country. 

fanta

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me and my love

For years growing up, you could bet cool green cans of Mountain Dew could be found in our big white refrigerator. If Y2K or our weekly soccer matches had taken precedent and the Dew was finished, no worries—cases could also be found in the back of dad’s Ford pickup. Dad was a legitimate Mountain Dew freak. Every 7/11 stop we made (a convenience store with the best slurpees in the world) was always associated with two kinds of things: some sort of cheese product for me, and Mountain Dew for Dad. It was just how things were, I suppose.

I remember when those very cases, bottles, and cans disappeared and Dad kicked his Mountain Dew habit. Apparently, pop isn’t the best thing for you, at least in those kinds of quantities. Not to mention, the Pepsi product, Mountain Dew, is loaded with a ridiculous amount of sugar and so that kind really isn’t good for you

Besides those days of that sugary lime-esque soda, pop was mostly absent as I grew up. If we had people over for a Broncos’ game or a typical American summer BBQ, you could certainly find some Coke products covered by ice in our cooler, but on a typical day in the Newell household, pop wasn’t much of a stronghold. Personally, I didn’t really like it that much anyway, so I was never bothered too much when my friends brought a can of soda with their brown bagged lunch. Between glasses of chocolate milk, water, or mom’s lemon iced tea, my thirst was almost always satisfied. So, when I fast forward well over 10 years and find myself in an unhealthy relationship with Coca-Cola, it’s rather difficult to pinpoint the roots. For so long, I hated pop. What happened?

And then, I remember. And I laugh because though I avoided pop for most of my life, I failed to understand the powers of Coca-Cola abroad. Turns out, they use real sugar and all sorts of other secret, magical things. Or so it seems.

My addiction started in Ghana, of all places.

I studied a semester my junior year of college at the University of Ghana-Legon. I use the term ‘studied’ leisurely, because a great chunk of my time was spent relaxing, working with some students who can’t afford to attend public school, traveling, and hanging out with my friends. Some days, we would all just sit in the courtyard area of our student housing and talk for hours—all day, even. While you could easily find juice or water on a hot, sunny afternoon to satisfy the thirst that sat in your mouth, it was almost always guaranteed that the pop would be the beverage of choice kept cold. Maybe the beer too, but it was hardly justifiable at 10:00 am. So, we drank Coke.

A small social thing at first, soon, we’d be structuring our social time in order to DRINK Coke. Sometimes, LITERS of it. Rachel, Paula, Taylor, and I—we were somehow obsessed. Once, in Benin, we cleared out the stock of  Coke a local motel had on hand. In one night only.

Rachel and I, both students at Hendrix, came back home and to school that year still glowing from what we called, “the sweet nectarine of life,” and would often reminisce of the joy of drinking our beverage of choice after dusty walks around Ghana. Sadly, cafeteria Coke or Walmart Coke just wasn’t the same—I still haven’t decided if it was the product or the place that made this so. Conway, Arkansas (home of Hendrix College, Toad Suck, and too many churches to name) has a local restaurant that serves Coke bottles imported from Mexico, and every now and then, we’d surprise each other with one of these bottles and instantly, our days would be made. Still, without the ever-present mix of Ghana and Coke, my fixation waned a bit.

Culturally, I had no idea what I was in for when I decided to accept my Peace Corps invitation to teach English in Rwanda. Without a doubt, this culture is highly complex because of its history, relationship with the world, and the religious influences that are infused everywhere. I can confidently say that I’ll never figure it out. Yet, I can proudly boast that I’ve come to understand, accept, and totally embrace one cultural fortress: FANTA. Fanta is everywhere in Rwanda and go ahead and take your pick: citron, fiesta, orange, coke, or sprite.

You know how in America when you visit someone you are welcomed with an often enthusiastic handshake or hug? Oh yeah, the same is true in Rwanda only you’ll also be immediately given a Fanta—or at least as soon as the prayer is over. The sometimes dusty and dirty (probably from it’s long voyage to way out here in the boonies) glass bottle is opened either with a run-of-the-mill bottle opener, the chair’s edge, or your host’s teeth. This is THE sign of hospitality, without question. To demonstrate the cultural importance of Fanta just a bit further, once I did an exercise with my students that put them in small groups. In their groups they had to decide what they would take to a deserted forest. I gave them the option of about 15 things and they could choose 4. Considering the small group choices, we developed an overall class list. The objects chosen were listed as follows (and in this order of importance):

1. A hoe (to cultivate)

2. Tea (with sugar)

3. Fanta

4. Matches

Mind you, there were other objects available for the picking, like pots, cooking tools, jerry cans, and the radio (another majorly important cultural object). And still, Fanta was on top of the list.

One time, I drank 7—yes, S-E-V-E-N Fantas—at a wedding. Weddings take the cake (literally) because tradition calls for families to share and exchange a 2-liter bottle of Coke (usually I see this happen and wonder how my friends and I drank Coke like we did back in our Ghana days) at the dowry ceremony. Once this happens and an ungodly amount of speeches are made, the guests are provided with a Fanta of their choice, housed in 4 x 6 red crates.

the glorious crate of cokes

Often, when running, I’ll hear a bicycle coming. I don’t know it’s coming because of the horn in front of the rider, the sliding of the bike chains, or the squeaky brakes rubbing against the various metals. I know the bicycle is coming because the glass bottles held in the back of the rider are clinking and banging together as they soar over the village dirt roads. Yes, even in the most rural of areas, there is Fanta. Best of all, they currently cost 300 RWF (Rwandan Francs). That’s just about 50 cents. How awesome is that?

To relax, people drink Fanta (or often beer, but that’s an entirely different story). Once a term, our hearty and Coke-loving headmaster takes us to a hole in the wall place (this is not an exaggeration) and we sit out back waiting as goats are bought, killed, and cooked so we can enjoy brochettes and cooked banana as a side to our Fanta. This little experience is called our teacher “motivation.” Hey, works for me.

Most recently, I went to visit one of my favorite students, called Tuyisenge, and spent the night. Tuyisenge spoiled me with delicious hot milk brewed with tea and herbal yummy-ness and with plantains (my favorite Rwandan food). Besides making me feel right at home and taking care of me completely for the night, Tuyisenge’s grandparents also went above and beyond the call of duty when it came to Fanta hospitality. Let’s just say that as I write this, I’m experiencing what I like to call a “Fanta hangover.” Basically, in less than 20 hours, I somehow consumed 9 different fantas. The rounds just kept coming. Her musaza and muchechuru (old man and old woman; to refer to grandparents) took me to a nearby boutique where we watched Rwandan worship videos as they drank banana beer and I was consistently given at least one Fanta for each hand. I think the end count went something like this: I had 3 Cokes, 4 Orange Fantas, and 2 Fanta Citrons. Now, I’m lying in bed, recovering, and quite certain this is what being hungover from Fanta feels like. In the moment, it was grand. Now, however, I may have to take a 1 or 2 day hiatus from the likes of Fanta. But, I’ll be back to my ways shortly. This I am sure.

As I’ve been encountering all this Coke culture in a small African country, Rachel has been exploring graduate school world at MTSU (Middle Tennessee State University) getting her master’s degree in public history. I remember the day, nearly 6 months ago, when I got a phone call from her exclaiming that she had landed the summer internship with the Coca-Cola archives. I was visiting my nearest town to run errands, to check my email, and to grab a cold Coke. I was jumping up and down as I exited the internet café to take her call; I was so happy and proud of her. And hey, not only was it a great opportunity, we couldn’t help but wonder how much access she would be having to Coke products that summer.

Oh. Did that girl ever have quite the access! While she didn’t come away with any secret recipes (as least none that she has let on to having) she told me legendary tales of the Coke vending machines at headquarters in her office in Atlanta where you could basically choose any kind of Coke product that you wanted—even other kinds of drinks that Coke owns, like Odwalla, for example. She worked on projects, visited California, and made trips to different plants. She even went to intern meetings and staff meetings where she’d be in the same room as the CEO. It was pretty cool stuff, as I understand it.

I think Rachel did manage to walk away with a strong sense of how Coke really is everywhere in the world. You don’t really notice at first, I think, but when you take a look around, man, it’s just in every small corner. It’s in every country except for like two. Oh, and there are hundreds of bottle types, apparently. I think Coke is THE most recognized English word—oh wait. It might be second to Jesus. That’s quite a feat.

So, what exactly is it about Coke?

For me, working as a teacher in a small, rural village, I can certainly tell you that most of my neighbors and community members have a strong and passionate love for all things sugar. In my tea, for example, they might try and put 4 or 5 tablespoons of that stuff. Seriously. So, with Coke, sugar is definitely a factor.

But, is it really all about the taste? Because yeah, it’s tasty. But so are a lot of drinks: tea, coffee, juice, and milk.

Fanta is kind of revered as a league of its own.

Maybe there really isn’t one reason in particular, it just is what it is.

It’s a really amazing and intriguing experience to visit a subsistence farmer based family who is barely making ends meet, who might have only a table and a small bench when it comes to furniture, and yet will still spend the 300 RWF for a Coke (or two) to give to me as their guest. Because it’s important to remember, I realize, that for some people, 50 cents does hold a lot of weight when it comes to money. And yet, so powerful is Fanta as a symbol for hospitality that these families hardly think twice.

I think what it comes down to is this:

The culture of Rwanda, while unbelievably complicated, is all about visiting people you love, sharing things with your neighbors, and engaging completely in a communal experience. It’s a giving culture, and it just so happens that a glass bottle full of sugar and god-knows-what happens to represent and manifest that homey-ness. Rwanda—or more precisely, the village—lacks a lot of options for drinking. You can go to the nearest boutique in my village and if you are thirsty you can purchase one of the following: a Fanta, a beer (a pre-packaged bottle or the local banana brew if you so wish), a weird orange juice concoction, or bottled water. Mixed with the tendency of conservatism, especially in the rural areas, beer is sometimes looked down upon by the church. And so, you have Fanta. It’s as if Rwanda is a country where all the elements work in sync that allow a culture of Fanta to grow and thrive. It’s tasty, it’s everywhere, and why not?

I think one of the total pluses of being a 2nd year volunteer here in my village is this: people know I like Coke. And so, here’s the thing: now when I go to visit community members, often the Coke is already sitting on the wooden table, waiting for me to accept it, own it, and drink it in like 14 seconds flat. Good neighbors? I THINK YES.

Coke, I’ve noticed, has advertised Open Happiness as a slogan to conquer the world—ahem—to sell their product. I remember I first read that catch phrase and kind of wanted to roll my eyes. Now? Well, I kind of whole-heartedly agree. It’s the power of Coke culture, I suppose.

enjoying the Obama bar with COKE themed place settings

like rwanda, tanzania has a strong love affair with coke.

set fire to the rain

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Today I felt so much that I felt nothing.

All of that admiration, that joy, that intangible desire to be around you because you make this all worth it dissipated in seconds. It’s taken a year to build and it seems that it can, in fact, fall that quickly.

Disillusionment becomes shock and reshapes into a more heavy weight of disappointment. Seeping into every corner of my head and heart, I am in disbelief.

You hold that stick—you defend that “tradition”—and you might as well hit me too.

Laugh. Laugh. Laugh.

Go ahead, spin the wheel, because you’re adding to the cycle just like everyone else.

Do something different, I say. CHANGE.

But change is an idea, and the stick is the reality.

“Teacher Heather, it’s our tradition.”

You see me as a girl with all ideas; you see me as a girl with butterflies and bees flopping in the air because I can only talk about love and peace like it’s some utopian ideal. You’re wrong. It’s about doing the right thing. Set fire to the rain.

I’m not better than you. I love you.

I told you I would never beat you.

Kubita ni bibi. Kubita ni bibi.

Every damn day.

KUBITA NI BIBI.

To beat is bad.

 I stand up for you, did you know that? At our 3, 4, 5, and 6 hour long staff meetings, I harp at the stick and I defend your right to be safe—physically and psychologically.

To what end?

Because maybe you’re just biding your time to move from the beaten to the beatee.

I feel dumb. I feel alone.

It’s like I’m shouting on a crowded street and no one is looking up.

I close my eyes to press the tears back and I’m sure I can’t do this. If this is what disappointment in your own children feels like, woe to parents around the world.

It’s the last day and I have the worst taste in my mouth. I taste sadness, confusion, hypocrisy and pretense. I taste hopelessness.

And all this time, I thought we were on the same team.

I thought we were together when it came down to this.

I kunda you, right?

That’s the one thing keeping my hands down, not in the air, waving up and down in defeat. Not taking those very hands, grabbing my phone, and quitting.

But I wanted to.

And I want to tell you that.

You hurt me, but much worse, you hurt each other.

I’m supposed to teach you tenses, terms, and topics. But no grammar lesson will give you what you need to move so much further.

I chose this wonderfully crazy 2-year life in Rwanda—away from so many people I love—FOR YOU.

Because while I believe in the power of education, I also believe in the power of a relationship outside the classroom. And so, I’ve built my days, weeks, and life in the village around you.

Why do you think I walk miles to visit you? Why do you think I stay here on the weekends? Why do you think I write grants for you, play football with you, take photos with you, dance with you, cry with you, and laugh with you?

You want to talk culture?

Let’s talk about it.

Let’s talk about your culture of sharing, of kindness, and of community. You help someone when they’re in trouble. You pray together, you eat together, and you make decisions together.

Let this culture win. Fight for this. Without a stick. Be an example.

The stick reaffirms some self-contrived notion of superiority and works with one stroke against the “peace” you say Rwanda has found.

THE STICK WORKS AGAINST YOU.

Don’t you see that?

You can be so much more. But I can’t do that for you. You have to believe it yourself.

I’ll wait, though. I’ll hope for something better.

I’ll hope you’ll put the stick down and choose to represent yourself with a new tradition.

We got a lot to learn, God knows we’re worth it.

I’ll wait.

Because as much as this frustration makes me want to run away from here without looking back, the love I have for you is still stronger. I’m not giving up. Love wins.

You’ll see that someday. Love always wins.