Monthly Archives: December 2012

the Rwanda we know

Standard

My senses are consumed. The smell of death permeates the air. I feel sick. I literally feel like I’m going to throw up. My mind is racing. I don’t really know what to feel, what to think, or what to say. Yet, the guide is explaining everything and I have to translate to dad what she is saying.

I may be translating the words but I can’t really process the heavy weight that they carry:

2500 people died here.

The Interhamwe clubbed people to death, sliced them with machetes, threw children against the wall, and raped women.

People in 1994 came here, to church, to be safe. They were deceived. Many of the church leaders had a direct hand in the killings that happened here in April 1994.

Our guides’ family has its remains in the tomb to our left. Her mother, two sisters, and brother.

Families’ bones were attempted to be kept together in the mass graves. They tried. Sometimes it was difficult, as the way these people were killed left it hard to determine who was who. However, many individuals left their clothing on the pews so that survivors would recognize their identity from that particular hat, shirt, or pair of shoes.

Here, in the Bugesera District (about 30 minutes south of Kigali), 65,000 people lived here in 1994. 2,000 survived the Genocide. 2,000 only.

Each person had to carry an identity card indicating their ethnicity: Tutsi, Twa, Hutu, or Naturalist. We are told that we can hold the card, look closely, and see that the cards do in fact, identify each person by their ethnicity. I take that worn, pea green card in my hand, and I can feel the evil. As I do this, dad tells me again, the hairs on his neck are standing.

Our guide, Josiane, survived because she ran. She was able to run away from the church, find security in the woods, and wait. Meanwhile, her entire family was murdered. She is the only one that remains.

                I asked her in Kinyarwanda, “isn’t it hard to work her everyday? To see the memory and remains of your family each time you step in here (in the underground area where the mass graves are kept)?”

                She replied, with tears in her eyes,  “yes, but it’s important to remember. It hurts a lot, but I carry them with me in my heart. We must remember.”

I look over at Dad and he’s visibly shaken. It’s unbelievable that here we are, standing beneath the beautiful statue of Mary, above so-called ‘holy ground’, and yet this is what happened here. Unbelievable, unbelievable, dad repeats over and over again. He’s touching the blood-stained clothes that fill the sanctuary, looking at the left behind rosaries that many of these victims likely prayed on, and I see that he too, feels deeply disturbed.

I’m a Christian woman. And yet, in this place thick with pain and agony, I don’t understand. I don’t understand how a refuge like this could be hijacked, how people could be so deceived, and how church leaders could turn on their people because of a sick, heavy load of propoganda, fueled by a long history of tension, the mingling of colonial powers, and resentment. Still, thousands of people were killed HERE, in a CHURCH. The international community, well, they mostly did nothing. Here, on this property, at the Nyamata Genocide Memorial Site, there is an Italian woman who is buried here. She was one of the few international community members that stood up and said something. She found out what was happening in this community and tried to gather support from abroad. She tried, but to no avail. She was killed in the years before the Genocide, because she was known to be a trouble-seeker, you could say. She is honored here, because she is remembered as an ally, a friend, an example of someone who said that this was not okay. No matter that Rwanda has few minerals to contribute to the world; Rwanda is turning on itself, people are dying, and this is Genocide. Few listened.

The Nyamata Memorial Site is an important place to visit. It’s arguably THE most intense thing that I have seen or experienced since I’ve been in Rwanda for nearly 16 months. We had visited the Kigali Memorial Site days earlier, and though it’s also deeply moving, it acts more like a museum, to inform people on what happened in Rwanda. In Nyamata, however, this is ground zero. This is where events actually took place, and so I left this memorial profoundly more impacted, and with one lingering, powerful question. WHY?

I think what leaves me most shaken is that now I have a growing and deepening relationship with Rwanda–the people, the country, and the culture. While I take the time, thoughts, and prayers to mourn the people that were killed in this church, my mind can’t help but wonder and return back to my own little village and think about what the people there must have seen, felt, and been through. I’ve been there for awhile now, and still, I don’t know most of their stories and their histories. It’s heartbreaking really, because this history is still so fresh, and most people I come into contact with, were and still are affected. Many of my students have only one parent. I’ve talked to people who were actively involved in harming other people at that time–to what degree, I don’t know, but they have told me that they did “bad things”. Dad and I had lunch with a couple of my girls and their family (one of a few families that have become my Rwandan family while living here) and it was amazing! They set out the meat, rice, peas, and the special china–just for dad and I. We laughed, talked, and dad told me he was extremely humbled by this obvious display of hospitality and happiness. It all hit home for dad when we had the following conversation (which I translated for both the grandmother and my dad):

Dad: How long have you lived in this house?

Grandmother: *thinks and hesitates for a moment* 17 years. We came here after the war ended.

Dad: How many kids do you have?

Grandmother: I had 10. Now, I have 2. 8 died.

I looked into her eyes and she seemed to be in a different place entirely. She was remembering something from long ago, with a forlorn glance in her eyes. It disappeared as quickly as it came, but my heart sank deeply as she relieved whatever she was relieving. It’s interesting to note that she referred to the Genocide period as “war”–which can sometimes indicate which side of the conflict they were on. Of course, you never want to read too much into anything when it comes to this sort of thing, but you definitely do wonder. Whether a “war” or a “genocide” to my community members, a lot of people died, a lot of people turned on each other, and it makes for the present-day communities still very difficult to sort through. I don’t know what one of my many Rwandan grandmothers has been through (believe me, I’ve been temporarily adopted by quite a few old mamas, and they all are, in perfect honesty, bad ass) but an 80-something year old mama in Rwanda, with little money and little belongings, has certainly been through a lot. She carries a lot of memories and also a lot of love. She’s a shining example of all that’s good in Rwanda, despite the unfathomable history traced within her past.

More than anything, I hope that I (and now my dad, as he has been here and seen what Rwanda has to offer) can tell people back home and the world that Rwanda is a really really good place. The Nyamata Genocide Memorial is a sobering experience; the Genocide really did happen and it was really that horrible. But, as someone who has lived here, not in Kigali, but in the village, I think I can offer a vision and a picture for how far this country has come and where it is going.

I’m trying really hard not to pretend that I know everything–because how could I? I am, in fact, NOT Rwandan (as hard as I try to be). The Nyamata Memorial helped me remember that; as integrated as I may be, I was not here for that divisive, horrific, and bloody piece of history, and so I will never ever understand. Arguably, most Rwandans will never understand it either. But I’m telling y’all, this place is amazing. I thank God that my dad came when he did, because I feel like I can see this place with a new set of eyes and a new vigor of energy. And what I’m seeing, well, it’s really really good. People in Rwanda want good things to exist in this country. Aside from their being a lot to do (gorillas, safaris, National Parks, hikes, volcanoes, cultural tours, historical sites, etc.) the people are wonderful here. They like visitors, and in my experience with my dad, they welcome them with open arms. For Christmas, we’ve found ourselves lake-side, at this beautiful, quaint, and small little hotel. They have the best customer service I have experienced in Rwanda, and they know exactly how to make people feel at home. Plus, their coffee and African tea rocks.

I guess what I’m really trying to say when it’s all said and done, is that when I went through that horrific memorial (and let me repeat, as horrible as it is, it’s 100% necessary to do), I was aghast with what happened in this country. Mostly, I think, because it doesn’t really match up with what I’ve experienced in this country, nearly 20 years later. I see remanants of maybe why things could have happened here (for example, the sometimes blinding and absolute devotion to authority figures) but overall, I see a peaceful country that is safe, completely gorgeous, and with a lot of potential. Like any country, there are a lot of issues, but I think the potential far outweighs the concerns. I hope that Rwanda will always remember what happened here. I hope they use the wounds and pain for good. I hope that people will continue to visit places like Nyamata in order to reflect, cry, pray, and remember the many many lives that were lost here so violently and unfairly. I hope that things will continue to always get better.

I remember a notorious professor at my small liberal arts college, Hendrix, asked our class once about progress. I was a little baby freshman, taking this class called Journeys which has Hendrix students explore “basic” ideas like free-thinking, civilization, and the philosophic approaches of various thinkers and shakers like Plato, Confucius, and Jane Addams. He told us early on, one day, with a condescending smile that progress was a myth, something that really can’t be achieved.

Maybe I wear rose-rimmed glasses too much, but I really think he’s wrong. Because progress doesn’t always have to be represented by more buildings, more money, more people, or more materials. It doesn’t mean, necessarily, that you have more technology or infastructure.

Progress, in my young, idealistic opinion, is about ideas. Here in Rwanda, the ideas of the people are slowly developing and changing. Steeped deeply in traditional culture, I hope that the youth of Rwanda can keep their beautiful traditions and values (family, cows, praying, fanta, God, banana beer, dancing, etc) while embracing peace, gender equality, education, and innovation. Things like this don’t happen quickly, believe me. There are plenty of my ‘mamas’ that would be abhorred to see a man in the kitchen cooking or using that extra money to send another girl to school. However, there are people that are trying to become entrepenuers, that are bringing women into leadership, and that are believing in themselves to change their country. The commonality is that most Rwandans, in my experience, never want anything like the Genocide to happen again. As long as that remains center in these ideas of progress, I think many people will be happy, surprised even, at what Rwanda can do in the world. 

Advertisements

after all, we’re only human

Standard

After all, we’re only human.

Is there any other reason why we stay instead of leaving?

-Jon McLaughlin, Human

Dressed in my handy, go-to, red, turquoise, and green Rwandan fabric themed dress, I sat in the audience at the American Ambassador’s House as the newest group of Peace Corps Education Volunteers (called ED-4; my group is called ED-3) took their oaths to serve in Rwanda for the next two years of their lives. I went to support the group—I had spent a couple of weeks teaching about how to use speaking and listening techniques in the classroom and observing the trainees as they went through their first round of teaching in a Rwandan classroom environment—but also to grab a burrito, relish in some margaritas, and enjoy and partake in an epic night on the town. Prior to the holidays, I had spent nearly 4 straight weeks in the village, and I may as well enjoy the festivities, I thought, especially for a special time for a lot of new friends as they enter the Peace Corps world (arguably the best, weirdest, most difficult, and craziest thing to do in life—that’s what I would say, anyway).

It was a strange experience to be on the other side of things—literally and metaphorically. This time, as a guest, I sat on the opposite side of the new-to-be volunteers. I watched their reactions, emotions, and vows throughout the ceremony. I laughed along with the speeches and let myself be moved by the speeches, as well. Their words, especially the English speeches (as I could FULLY grasp everything being said), moved me. Much more than I expected. They spoke with emotional anecdotes, personal insights on why this kind of thing works, and how important it is to follow this dream and commitment. I let the tears rise, and it wasn’t just because of the power of their words, it was also because for the previous week, I had been having an immensely difficult time.

To describe the kind of loneliness you experience here has proved difficult to put in words that actually hit where the heart hurts. I have people here, really amazing people that I love incredibly deeply, and yet, sometimes it just isn’t enough. And what’s weird too, is to realize that maybe the very people that I’m missing wouldn’t even necessarily be the answer to this pang in my mind and thoughts. I think that’s why this brand of loneliness is particularly complicated: the people here in my village don’t really know my life back in America, and my family and friends back home, despite my committed attempts to blog, email, and talk about this experience, and their committed efforts to listen and support me in all things, they still miss the small stuff that I can’t really put into words, pictures, or ideas. There is this gap between my two lives and sometimes it feels wider than usual, making me feel a bit lost in the world, or something like that. Like I said, it’s really hard to describe.

But then there are other things that are much easier to put into words.

  • The week prior to swear-in, I spent hours in my house one rainy day, just crying. And I wasn’t even sure why.
  • I always enjoy my first cup (or three) of coffee in bed, but then I often have the motivation to move about my day—to go outside, walk around, or to even go on a run. During this week, however, I felt no such urgency.
  • A vast majority of my Peace Corps friends went home in the first week or two of break to be with their families for the holiday season. I didn’t realize how hard it would be to see them go—leaving me wondering if I should be going too, and also in the meantime, who I plan to talk and text with while they are out of country?
  • One of my students died. It’s a long winded dramatic story, believe me. I found out just a few days into our vacation, as my senior 3 students were beginning the set of national exams they have to take advance into the advanced levels of secondary school. He, and his young, 10 year old sister, were poisoned by their neighbors. Apparently out of jealousy, another student and his “witch doctor” mother concocted some kind of poison set-up in a batch of sugar cane as to make them sick. Evidently, the intention was not for them to die, but they did. I visited the family a week or so after this all happened, and I felt just so heartsick for them. To lose TWO children? And what does this say about people in my community? This place really is a good place—but why does it always take just one or two people to bring so many others into question? It’s really not fair, for anyone. And so obviously, that has been beyond difficult to deal with. It wasn’t a student I was particularly close with, but he was in fact, my student. And so it’s still pretty uncomfortable and disturbing to talk about.
  • A few times in these more difficult days, I’ve asked myself what if I just left?  Would anyone really care that much? A year of service—that’s still pretty good. And I would walk away with so many good memories and experiences. Maybe I could leave before the start of the first term so I wouldn’t leave in the middle of a school year?
  • Because of the violence and rocky things happening in Eastern DRC, one of our volunteers (and a friend of mine) was removed from her site temporarily and then eventually pushed in a position to return back to America and out of the Peace Corps. This is the 10th volunteer we have lost from our group—most of them from external situations that really can’t be controlled—and it’s so tough every time we lose someone. Yes, I do spend a vast majority of my time at site and not around Peace Corps Volunteers, but the people in our group are like our families, and when they go, it’s really hard. Especially in this particular case; she loved her site, loved Rwanda, and was doing SO many good things in her community.

Yeah, you could say that I haven’t been in a great place. I can tell you this much, remaining optimistic and living a life of positivity is near and dear to my heart, and yet, that’s been challenging lately. So, you can just imagine. It sure hasn’t been easy: and remember, I love this place. I love my job. But like with anything, it ain’t an easy ride. There are moments, phases, and times where things are really good and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life (I probably feel like this about 80% of the time, which I would say is a pretty darn good number for living a life completely different than my first 22 years). There are stages where things are just okay, and of course, there are segments where it just feels like you keep banging your head against a wall and you are quite literally, going nowhere. I recognize this is just how it goes. In Peace Corps, yes, but in life too.

It always gets better.

We’re human, and we find ways to actually feel what we’re feeling, deal with it, and continue with life. Adversity, I think, is one of the most important qualities a person can have. A lot of mentors, family members, and people that I admire have this important characteristic, and I try to bear those very people in mind when I’m going through a rough patch—whether it’s emotionally, spiritually, or whatever it may pertain to. I figured the best thing I could do for myself would be to go to a place that I could enjoy, but more importantly, be with people that would make me laugh, make me feel at home, and relax just a bit. My site is my home (I can say that now without reservation) but to work through these emotions, I realized I needed to get out of my house. I needed a change of scenery, yes, but I needed people that could still lift me up.

I decided to visit my good ole’ student-friend, Divine. She’s the one (and yes, I’ve blogged, talked, and written about her already many times) that lives way out East, near Tanzania when we don’t have school. That’s where most of her family is. However, when school is in session, she lives in my community with her grandmother, helping to take care of her as she lives her last weeks and months. Anyway, I had promised I would come for another visit to see her mother, sisters, and brother. And also, with all of this muck wearing me down, I wanted to be with someone who can lift my spirits without really even trying. And y’all, that’s this girl.

I arrived at her house on a Saturday evening (it was a nearly 4 hour trip from Kigali) and stayed through Tuesday afternoon. 4 days, 3 nights. It was exactly what I needed. I fit quite well in her family, I would say. They totally get my humor, laugh at my Kinyarwanda jokes, and we spend a lot of time just doing more weird stuff that makes us laugh all over again. I would dare say that her family are some of the most jolly (is that the right word? You know, people that love to laugh?) people I’ve met in Rwanda. They are always laughing. It’s so great.

We also ate so much food. SO MUCH. That’s just standard though, when it comes to visiting Rwandans.

We ate, danced, cooked, played sport, visited the Tanzanian border (just me, Divine, and her sister), walked around, fetched water, greeted Divine’s extended family and friends, watched The Lion King, and listened to music. I turned off my phone for most of my visit and not really even because they don’t have electricity and I couldn’t charge. No, I turned it off because I needed a little break from the world so I sure as hell was going to take it. My days out there were a continuum of really feeling at home. Like I said, I just fit in well, and so it’s easy to be there. I think I played hide-and-go-seek with Divine’s little cousin for like an hour. It’s the little things. It really is. 

I arrived back home quite clean (looking and being clean is SUPER important in Rwandan culture), pretty darn tired, but doing a lot better than I was the few days before. Taking a break and visiting Divine didn’t solve all of my doubts, problems, or issues, but wow, as usual, she made me believe in this whole thing all over again, and helped me remember what beautiful seeds I have sown here. Divine is a friend for life, believe it, and being around her encourages me to make the most of my time here. She makes me want to be a better person, and I’m so lucky to have her in my life. In some crazy way, she’s just another sister that I never had.

I came back home with this kind of encouragement ringing throughout my head and heart, loaded with a couple of fresh packages from the post office, and a date to play football with a girls team in my village. I journaled about my trip with Divine, opened my packages (one from Ali, the other from Dad—y’all rock), and I played football, which was like the icing on a cake to a great sequence of days. The best part of the game, without a doubt, was when I shot the ball hard with my right foot, it hit off the right post, and Zahara, one of my friends and students, rebounded it directly back into the goal. YES!!! We jumped up and down and I ran right into her arms. Quite literally. Her hand knocked right into my mouth and teeth, but it didn’t even matter. We were just so excited about this SportsCenter top-10 worthy play. Congratulations! Zahara just said over and over again for like 5 minutes straight. It was a great day for football. And it was a great day, just in general. I walked home after the sun had set, happy for the game, but just happy that I was feeling okay again. Maybe not euphoric like I sometimes and often do, but I’m feeling once again comfortable and able to deal with whatever comes my way.

Lucky for me, the next part of this journey brings me back in the company, presence, and arms of someone I love deeply, fully, and without any reservation.

Dad is coming HERE. To RWANDA.

Could the timing be any better? I really don’t think so.

I’m counting down the days and hours until I get to run and hug him harder than I think I have ever done. Finally. A piece of home is coming here. Finally. 15 months without being face to face with someone from my family or circle of friends is unbelievably hard.

I can’t wait to explore Rwanda with dad, with a new set of eyes, and maybe even more so, I’m so ready for Dad to see where I live. To meet the people in my community, to know this place that I call home, and to get a little taste for what my life is like here.

I’ve cleaned my house. I’ve got our tickets to trek mountain gorillas ready to go. I’ve cleared my camera disc space. He just needs to get here.

I’m okay with how I have been feeling. I really am. It sounds crazy, but after all, we really are only human. We feel things, deal with things, and experience things that hurt, and sometimes we aren’t even sure why. But it’s better to recognize the hurt, I’ve realized, and to do something about it. I know I don’t have to be happy all the time. I know that. But I also understand that it’s important to find ways to deal with your emotions. It doesn’t mean fixing them—it means embracing them, feeling them, and using the gifts God gives us (our family, friends, communities) to help us.

We’re only human, yes. But our powers to love and support each other—and to love and support ourselves—are incredibly powerful.

I’m smart enough to know that life goes by

And it leaves a trail of broken parts behind

If you fear of letting go

Just give me time

I’ll come running to your side

We all need someplace we can hide inside

All these ups and downs

They trip up our good intentions

Nobody said this was an easy ride

-Jon McLaughlin, Human

we have a dream, like martin luther king

Standard

My old worn pink asics are on, I’m wearing my Hendrix capri sport pants, and my hair is thrown in a messy bun. I’m ready for sport. It’s just like most other days in my life—when it comes to my daily life, there’s a good chunk of time spent running, doing yoga (or some other random workout video on my computer), playing football, or going on long walks around the village. This is what I do. This is my element.

Only this time, one thing is different. Oh, and it’s pretty major. I’m playing goal ball and so I’m wearing black goggles that block out my vision. That’s right—I’m playing this particular sport without the ability to see. It’s what makes goal ball unique.

You see, I’m playing goal ball with a handful of boys who are partially blind or cannot see at all. And what’s amazing is that there is this game at all—it’s called goal ball—and you spend 20 minutes in a crouched position, waiting for the ball to be served (like the size of a kickball), and to come your way (you can’t see it, but it has a special bell inside so that you can listen for it). When you hear it, you prepare to block it from entering the large goal behind you. You have two other teammates by your side, ready to block right along with you. To serve, the best players place their hand on our goal to spot check, and just as quickly, the spin and dish the ball on the cement ground. They keep it low, and it somehow reminds me of a cross between bowling tactics and old school kickball on the playground. You can’t see—remember?—and so you have to clap your hands and feel the ground in order to position yourself correctly and communicate with your teammates.

To go from seeing everything to nothing is intense. And I did this for approximately 19 minutes—I can’t even begin to imagine what the boys that I played with must feel like everyday. In some ways, I imagine it’s incredibly isolating and frustrating. But these boys, well, they are without a doubt, a special group.

They made up 5 of the 65 boys we had at our recent Eastern Province BE CAMP (Boys Excelling). These boys came from all over the East to represent their schools as leaders and instigators of new ideas and change in their communities. The camp is sponsored by Peace Corps, so all of these students either have a Peace Corps Volunteer in their community as a teacher or as a health worker. I brought four boys to camp: Robert and Yousef from Senior 3, and Tom and Dieudonne from Senior 4.

We had the girls equivalent of this camp this last summer (GLOW: Girls Leading Our  World). And quite literally, that experience changed my life. I was able to see the real, concrete, and powerful effect of being a proverbial seed-planter. I’ve come to realize that is really what being a Peace Corps Volunteer is all about: we are here to encourage, to share, to love, and to support, but many of the ideas and resources we bring act as seeds to a much larger garden. I won’t see most of the changes that I’ve worked towards this past year and will continue this next year in 2013, but that’s okay—it comes with the territory. Camps seem to be an exception to this rule, as after just a few days of being together, singing songs, playing games, studying life skills, and dancing, Rwandan youth find so many ways to come out of their shells. You can often see them radiate with self-confidence and happiness after the camp is over, and though you never know how exactly these students will apply the knowledge and skills that we tried to teach them, you can instantly see what it feels like for them to be told that yes they can and that as leaders in their community, they have the power to make things better in their own lives but also in the lives of others.

When GLOW finished this last August, I couldn’t wait for the next camp. It was like I was addicted to this feeling—is this what it feels like to make the world a better place, I asked myself. I wrote the date for our BE camp early on and I had been looking forward to it ever since.

Yet, to be perfectly honest, I was also much more nervous for the boys version of camp. When it comes to working with youth and I have conversations that connect me emotionally with students, I have noticed that I connect much more strongly with young women. And so, anticipating the week long training with over 50 boys initiated a lot of questions on my behalf: will I be able to ask the right questions? Will they trust me to open up? Will they be as open to new ideas as the girls were?

All of these questions were put to rest as we stood in a circle in the great hall at HVP Gatagara (a school for the visually impaired about 90 minutes from my house), with burning candles held in our hands, singing Silent Night, after a stirring speech from one of our Peace Corps Volunteers, Christina. Silent Night always gives rise to emotions in my heart, and so a few small tears fell down my face much in the same way that the white candle wax was leaking through the brown paper onto my hands. I was crying out of happiness though; these boys, much like the girls from GLOW, inspired me in more ways than I could have ever imagined. In just 4 short days, I felt like I watched these boys learn new things about building relationships, commit themselves to achieving their dreams and visions, and working together to make new friends and learn more about themselves.

Abouba told me about his life as an orphan. His school lets him study and sleep there in exchange for his extra work on the holidays.

Erneste explained his passion for goal ball as we held hands and I guided him around campus. He is one of the best players around—yes, even in Rwanda and East Africa—as he was able to travel to Algeria and compete internationally just a few years ago. He may be blind, but he doesn’t view this as a handicap—just another challenge in life. We all have challenges, he told me, and it shouldn’t stop us from doing what we love to do.

Froudard was the incredible winner of Limbo at our carnival (I still can’t believe how low that boy got) and then he outdid himself in the talent show when he performed Rwandan traditional dance with boys from his school. He did the splits for nearly a minute and most of the volunteers watched with shock and gasps on our faces. That boy got skills!

Alphonse brought his guitar out every night and sang some classics (Country Roads and Hero for example) before singing some of his own songs. His ability to play guitar and sing is unparalleled by many other musical gifts that I have seen, and it’s all the more amazing when you realize that Alphonse is also visually impaired and cannot see. But that’s never the focus when you are in his presence; he is constantly keeping the people around him laughing and completely in awe by his musical talent.

The boys of Martin Luther King Jr. (my hero group—we had a total of 8 hero groups so the boys could be in smaller groups to discuss and have a family like atmosphere) won the cheer-off on day one and I couldn’t have been prouder. After I explained Martin Luther King Jr. to the first boy who came to camp, he proceeded to explain the works and life of King to the rest of the boys who arrived throughout the afternoon. They owned and paraded around the campus with the pride of being in Dr. King’s group. I would yell, Where is the King? and the boys would respond equally loud and obnoxious with we are here! When we were all together we would sing our cheer which went something like this:

 Where are you going?

What what?

I said, where are you going?

WE (clap clap)

ARE (clap clap)

GOING (clap clap)

TO (clap clap)

WASHINGTON! (clap clap)

(here the boys and I bring our arms together in the middle of the circle, raised in the air, to symbolize the Washington Monument)

(we stay silent for about 3 seconds and then…)

LET’S MARCH!!

We want freedom!

We want equality!

We want love!

So we tell them…

We have a dream!

Like Martin Luther King!

A dream, a dream, a DREAM A DREAM A DREAM!

It should come as no surprise that by the end of camp, I could barely talk and when I did, I sounded like an old man who has been smoking cigarettes for far too long.

Besides lessons on various topics like HIV/AIDS, gender equality, and communication, the boys had journaling activities (oh yeah. totally my doing), a career fair (we had visitors that included a journalist, a police officer, a soldier, a teacher, and an IT specialist) so they could share their experiences and journey within their respective vocations, a talent show, spontaneous dancing, and afternoon activities like sport, the American classic of the egg drop challenge, and cooking (some PCVs taught the boys how to cook bread over a charcoal stove).

I should emphasize the dancing: holy cow, I danced so much that week. I think GLOW was where I fell in love with teaching baseball in Rwanda and it was BE where I fell in love with dance. I’ve always enjoyed dancing (who doesn’t??) but I felt so free the entire time we were at camp. When the boys arrived at camp, we drummed the traditional Rwandan sound on the lunch tables and danced. Between meals, we danced. And when we finally landed a sound system for the talent show, we danced. I love moving around freely, but there is certainly something intensely special about the Rwandan cow dance. You move your arms to represent the intore, the traditional African warrior, alongside the proverbial cow, which is of the upmost importance in Rwandan culture. You move everything in your body along with the beat of the music, and it’s just about the most beautiful dance I have ever seen. And I sure do try. Sometimes, I actually feel like I can do it pretty decently—and the boys told me so! In the spirit of building confidence, they told me I can do the cow dance and so all week long, even in the absence of a melody to follow, I was moving my feet and legs, just like many Rwandans. Proof # 384 that I’m becoming more and more Rwandan with each passing day. (on a side note: I should also indicate that I have video proof of me doing the wobble along with about 20 other students and another PCV who taught us. Believe me, this is one for the home video collection!)

BE camp, just like GLOW, will without question, be a highlight of my Peace Corps experience. It just works. In our communities, working in the classroom everyday and building relationships with our community members, it can be sometimes quite difficult to witness, understand, or even believe that you are making any kind of difference. But at camp, you just know, and it’s one of the most powerful emotions I have ever experienced. To be standing there, in a crowded room, knowing that lives have been changed—what more could you ask for? And what’s even better, is that you know that this change isn’t possible just because of you, it’s also because of them, and it’s also because of God. Who knows when I’ll meet with some of those boys and girls again—if ever—but we were together for a powerful time, albeit short, and that counts for something. We have memories to take with us, feelings to carry on, and the world to change for the better. When I participate in these kinds of camps, I always walk away reaffirmed and believing that the best of our world lies in the youth. They have the capability to do it—it’s just telling them, reaffirming them, and giving them the knowledge and capacity to do so. Just like with GLOW, I walk away from this camp absolutely convinced that this is what I want to do with my life. I want to be the person that says yes you can and if I could be doing this alongside lessons about life skills and going outside to play sport, then I would be even more happy. These boys (and the girls back at GLOW) write notes of affirmation, telling us how much they love us, and how important the camp was to them. I write them notes back too, not only telling them how great they are, but giving them thanks, because whether they know it or not, they have also given me the confidence to believe in my life, to believe in my work, and continue to know that we all have something special to offer the world.

Yes, like my boys said, we have a dream, like Martin Luther King.

And, I am so blessed to be apart of it, no matter if it’s big or small.

Even on the hard days, I often find myself thinking that I must have one of the best jobs in the world. And maybe the best part is that it’s not really a job for me—and it never really has. It’s just my life and my dream coming together and giving some sort of outcome for the vision I have had for myself for so long. And really, it’s just the beginning. Not just for my Peace Corps experience, but for what I hope for the rest of my life. Yes, all of this I gain from a few small days of playing sport, holding hands, and cheering with a group of boys. They are that inspirational, believe me. They are going to change Rwanda for the better. They are going to be the ones to change the world.